Too close to call
Imagine that the night of the constitutional amendment referendum takes longer than it normally should. In the day and age of Twitter and Facebook, imagine we are locked in front of the TV screen at 3 in the morning and the result is still “too close to call.” Who would be the real winner that morning?
There are only twenty-something days left until the ballot and there is little excitement on the streets. The “no” front is practically banned from all TV shows, public spaces, open debates and are even unable to canvass on the streets. There is massive and almost violent pressure on one side of the argument, whereas the “yes” machine knows no end.
In this asymmetrical race, who would benefit in the end? As Erdem Gül of Cumhuriyet reports, the polls are still very close and the number of “undecided” voters is still more than 10 percent. The Justice and Development Party (Ak Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have switched the campaign strategy to target the European Union and Germany in particular. It might have been a sound discussion point in the beginning. But at this point, turning the referendum into a “Brexit-like” vote about Turkey’s EU membership is a big gamble. It may backfire in the end.
This referendum is all about the “official” and “unofficial” positions. The “yes” side has an official leader, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, and an unofficial one, the president himself. All the sides that are debating the articles want to stay away from the issue of President Erdoğan, but it is all about him all the time. The “no” front’s official leader is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the unofficial one is Meral Akşener, the dissident expelled from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Ironically, there are even official and unofficial songs for the campaign.
Nobody really remembers the tunes of the Ak Party or Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP). But everyone thinks the İzmir March is the real song of this referendum. From stadiums to marketplaces, it is on all the time.
Another hidden debate in coffee shops and evening dinner chitchats is the Syrian refugee issue. Whether Turkish people admit it or not, there is brewing discontent in the small towns of Anatolia about the growing population of Syrian refugees. A young colleague of mine who did his military service in the eastern province of Kahramanmaraş told me a couple of weeks ago how the people of Maraş had taken justice into their own hands.
“You know the big refugee camp in Maraş,” he told me. “There is a big crime problem emerging from that camp, drug sales, prostitution, etc. And unfortunately the public had started making the Syrians pay. There are young corpses of Syrian men found dead on the streets frequently. This is something we will have to deal for a long time.”
Sinan Oğan, another MHP dissident, and Kılıçdaroğlu have already started making the Syrian refugee issue a part of the referendum campaign. Kılıçdaroğlu is using a milder tone whereas Oğan is raising the rhetoric like Marine Le Pen of France.
So the bigger trouble is what happens the morning after. If it is 51 percent “yes,” will President Erdoğan be happy? Will the other half of society take this and go on with their lives or completely lose hope with the democratic process? Will the AkTrolls be happy if 65 percent of the young, university-educated, well-off population of this country leaves the country in the summer for good?
Turkey has lost its story of promise. It is time to refresh, restart and rebuild.