Countdown to the referendum

Countdown to the referendum

The countdown has started. Can the country go down a one-man rule - however it might be described - or will the nation, despite the massive and official pro-“Yes” campaign, say it will not succumb to it and agree on giving up parliamentary democracy despite all its deficiencies? Regardless of what is said by both sides, there is an increasing excitement and some degree of confusion. Days before the crucial vote, public opinion polls show that there is an at least 20 percent undecided camp. Can that be normal just less than two weeks before a crucial vote? 

Why do people, less than 15 days before the crucial vote and irrespective of what might be the real opinion, prefer to hide their preferences when interviewed by pollsters? At Ankara’s Çankaya district, for example, if someone in one of those luxurious cafes tries to hide their “No” vote and says they are undecided; the reason behind it is very clear. One might be a top business personality with luxurious deals with the ruling elites, aware of how contracts might be immediately axed if they stepped on some toes, and out of “convenience” compelled to hide political preference until they are in the ballot box. If at the same café, someone not in a business relationship with the ruling elites prefers not to disclose their “yes” vote, most likely they will be under what is called peer pressure or atmosphere of fear.

When interviewed by pollsters in the downtown Ulus district or at the Yüzüncüyıl neighborhood of Ankara, if people claim they are undecided, most probably they are inclined to vote “no” but are scared of consequences of revealing their true colors. Could they face the risk of being accused of belonging to Fethullah Gülen’s “terrorist organization?” Could they be kicked out of official businesses or punished to a prison cell for several months if they rise against the oppressive will of the extravagant palace’s tenant? If they were to say “yes,” it would not be a problem, but a “no” could be a fortune closer not for the individual only, but probably for the entire family. After all, individuality of crime - a fundamental principle taught at all law schools in the first year of education - might not be applied even for geriatric parents-in-law, unable to walk alone.

What should a journalist do other than meeting with people, gathering information, double- checking and reporting to people? If a journalist talked on the phone with a group of fugitive criminals in order to understand what the crimes brought against them were, listen to their defense and put all that information in a story – of course with safeguards of not being accused of abetting terrorism – can such contacts be considered as proof of his “contributing to the fulfillment of the targets of a terrorist gang without being a member of it” accusation? Or if 21 journalists freed by a court after more than five months of solitary imprisonment are all taken in on the same day and the next day the presiding judge and scores of prosecutors and lawyers are taken in on grounds they were members of a terrorist gang and they released the journalists because of their gang affiliation, can anyone have any doubt about the advanced creativity and the independence of the Turkish judiciary.

These are of course difficult days shaping how difficult the forthcoming days will be. The president and the prime minister, who are trying to explain to the nation that the president could handle everything single-handedly, are in panic. With pseudo-inauguration ceremonies, they are aired on all TV screens for several hours every day and are on the front pages of all newspapers every day, which is a rather cheeky way to push the opposition aside. The opposition parties, anyhow, could not gather any major rally so far, limited their efforts to closed-door events and small events at secondary squares of the cities. 

This constant overexposure of the president and the premier indicate, on the other hand, a feeling of uncertainty on the government flank. They obviously have a problem with believing in the paid-polls that show the “Yes” vote in the 60 percent points. If the “most of the 20 percent undecided votes are indeed fear-disguised ‘No’ votes, besides, a segment of the ‘Yes’ vote is disguised ‘No.’ The end result will be very surprising” assessment of some pollsters is correct, there will be a surprising outcome of the April 16 vote. On the other hand, a pollster friend commented in private that the country was so polarized that “neither a 60 percent or more ‘Yes’ nor a 60 or more percent ‘No’ can surprise me. I am ready to buy either.”