How to avoid the noise

How to avoid the noise

Turkey’s last but probably not the least fight with Europe is brewing over a campaign against the Netherlands and its decision to not allow Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to campaign for the upcoming referendum on constitutional amendments. But then again, why is the diaspora vote such a big deal anyway?

According to all pollsters covering the referendum, the “No” vote had a slight lead over until last week. AK Party’s local chapters were having a hard time campaigning. There were large town hall meetings in AK Party strongholds but one would hardly see AK Party’s faithful campaign with energy and enthusiasm. “We wait until the last week when the Boss [President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] pulls another rabbit from the hat,” one very important pollster said this on March 11. This was the mindset. 

Gülfem Saydam Sanver, a young and talented political communication strategist, reminded me the Brexit vote over the weekend. In a conference organized by TASAM, Sanver explained how at some point, discussions surrounding the Brexit vote became something completely out of context and shifted into a debate on the refugee issue, turning the vote to “Yes.” Here, Turkey’s constitutional amendment referendum could easily become a Netherlands issue.

Without the late Erol Olçok at the campaign headquarters, AK Party and the “Yes” front is having a hard time focusing on the issues. They are also having a harder time clarifying the referendum articles, and its necessity. On TV talk shows, the ratings drop drastically during debates on the referendum articles. Ironically, there is a great interest in foreign policy issues and Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) internal debacle.  So yes, at the end of the game, AK Party could probably harness 2 percent out of this crisis. 

But as for the “No” campaign, there is still time and enough energy to swing the vote back. At homes of ordinary neighborhoods, the crisis with the Netherlands is not something they relate to. For them, the university exam their child has to take, the monthly gas bill they pay, the grocery prices that have risen are a bigger problem. Parts of the undecided MHP voters also see a “masquerade” in the Rotterdam mess. “If we had made it illegal to campaign outside of Turkey” they say, “why did they go there and insist?” A lot more people are questioning on social media if this was a planned and cooked crisis despite Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s words about not holding rallies in the Netherlands.

Necati Özkan, a leading political strategist tweeted about the movie “Wag The Dog” and said if a politician “creates an artificial crisis” like the one in the movie, one can consolidate the nationalist vote and swing the balance in his/her favor. Yet it seems like the general public is not really fully going with the argument.

The bigger danger here is the complacency and pessimism that can spread around to the naysayers. Meral Akşener, a former MHP politician who turned into the informal leader of the “No” campaign, said she was confident of the clear “No” vote, except the laziness and sadness that can sink the white collar, big city and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) vote. “In smaller cities, people are suffering deeply. There is a huge economic crisis, unemployment, desperation and a silent anger brewing,” she said. 

For a better Turkey, with better relations with Europe as a whole, the constitutional vote is even more important now.