The two main supporters of the “Yes” camp have become embroiled in a last-minute row over whether the shift to an executive presidential system constitutional amendments will introduce a “federal state structure,” with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
denying claims that Turkey’s unitary system will be eroded.
“The biggest defender of the unitary structure of Turkey is us, myself. That will continue to be the case. [A federal] state [system] or federation, none of this on our agenda and will not be,” Erdoğan said on April 14 at a rally in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, just two days before the April 16 referendum.
His comments came after Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli slammed advisers of Erdoğan for suggesting the possibility of a federal structure if the “yes” side prevails in the referendum.
“If advisors are speaking of a state [federal] structure and the president is not ruling this out, then what will be the decision of the nationalists, who support a unitary structure, just two days before the [referendum]?” Bahçeli said during a live interview with Nazlı Çelik on private broadcaster NTV late on April 13.
“If my advisors spoke of a federal system, I would dismiss them,” he added.
Erdoğan rejected the implications, saying the proposed constitution guarantees the unitary structure of the republic.
“Politics is being updated. The executive system is being updated. I declare one more time our determination to ensure the endurance of our republic in its unitary state forever,” he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also refuted the claims.
“I will resign from my position as party chairman and prime minister if it is proven that there is any article in this constitution that could pave the way for [the establishment of] a federal state,” Yıldırım said in a meeting with non-governmental organizations on April 14.
“The unitary state structure, one state, one nation, one flag and one country: These are our four irrevocable principles. Our sensitivity to the unitary state is no less than our nationalist brothers,” he added.
The suggestion of a “federal structure” was made by presidential advisor Şükrü Karatepe, but Erdoğan in an interview late on April 13 stressed that he had been misunderstood.
MHP voters will play a crucial role in Sunday’s polls, as the AKP needs support from at least some of them to cross the 50 percent mark.