Not a very fair referendum campaign, is it?

Not a very fair referendum campaign, is it?

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has long complained that public broadcaster TRT is not giving sufficient coverage to his “No” rallies, ahead of the April 16 referendum on shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system as pushed by President Tayyip Erdoğan.  

TRT is officially obliged to give coverage to all parties in proportion to their representation at parliament, and after a number of attempts it asked Kılıçdaroğlu to appear in a live interview at 19:00 p.m. on April 7. 

Kılıçdaroğlu arrived at the TRT studio and was waiting for the broadcast time, but when the clock struck 19:00 p.m. Erdoğan had still not completed his speech in one of his “Yes” rallies. The CHP leader thus had to wait for the completion of Erdoğan’s speech, (as always, broadcast live by almost all national and local channels - some willingly, some thinking they had better do so). 

The interview eventually started at 19:30 p.m., but Kılıçdaroğlu protested the delay during the broadcast, saying it was a good example of how Turkey is gradually being dragged to one-man-rule. Let alone TRT, the CHP head is barely able to find interview opportunities on private broadcasters, and whenever he does that station is the next day flooded by interviews with government ministers (which no private channel feels free to turn down). 

In the early stages of the campaign, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) issued a controversial decree law under the state of emergency, declared right after the foiled military coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which lifted the regulation on broadcasters providing balanced coverage to all parliamentary parties during campaigns. That decree law came upon complaints from pro-government stations, which now dominate the TV media. They said they did not want to be “tool of ‘No’ propaganda” and only wanted to broadcast “Yes.”

The media issue is not the only obstacle that Kılıçdaroğlu is complaining about. Almost every street in Turkey has been covered almost entirely by “Yes” banners, “Yes” flags, and “Yes” posters, featuring photos of President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, or AK Parti ministers and mayors. Little account seems to be given to the cost of this campaign overload. What’s more, the far fewer “No” banners and posters frequently find themselves removed or torn down by unknown people. 

Meanwhile, the dissident former Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputies, expelled from the party for not siding with MHP head Devlet Bahçeli in support of the “Yes” campaign, are frequently attacked by their former comrades during campaign meetings.

The problems faced by the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are very different. HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, along with a number of the party’s MPs, are in jail on terrorism charges including “helping the propaganda” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and being linked to it. Thousands of local HDP officials, especially in the east and southeast of the country, have also been removed from office or jailed on similar charges. The HDP supports the “No” campaign but has barely any opportunity to get its voice heard in the national media, which fears being attacked on social media for supporting terrorism. 

It is under these circumstances that polling companies have started to issue their final survey results one by one. İbrahim Uslu, the head of ANAR, one of the biggest polling companies in Turkey, posted on his Twitter account that ANAR’s final estimate is 52 percent “Yes” and 48 percent “No.”

The eventual outcome will become clear on the night of April 16. One wonders what those final estimates could be under a fairer election campaign.