Wooing the undecided
Only days are left before Turks go to the booths to vote in a crucial referendum. The outcome of the vote might open the way to the creation of the “second republic” in this country with a super president. It might as well set off a process that could bring an end to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) governance.
Most polls show the “yes” votes several points behind the “no” votes, but there are as well public opinion polls showing the “yes” votes as high as 60 or even more percentage points. What is clear so far, however, is the existence of an unprecedented high number of undecided votes less than four weeks before the existentially important vote.
It is a fact that with the massive propaganda contributions from the state-run TRT, most of the TV channels and newspapers; the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be considered running a comfortable “yes” campaign. Opposition parties and groups, on the other hand - put aside equal time and space on TV stations and in newspapers - because of obstructions by police and local municipalities, they cannot even campaign in cities with buses and minibuses dressed with “no” slogans.
Even the anniversary commemorations for the Dardanelles campaign was turned into propaganda matter for the “yes” flank. If we are to talk about just elections, would a president read a poem by drawing parallels between the martyrs of the Dardanelles campaign and the July 15, 2016 failed coup to condemn those inclined to vote against the changes of being members of a terrorist gang?
As if it was not the Turkish state that allowed the Nevruz message of a separatist convict chieftain to be read out in celebrations in Diyarbakır on March 21, 2013, or was it the government of another country that was conducting the ambiguous Kurdish opening until the process was buried deep in the tunnels of southeastern settlements? The AKP government has been supporting anyone inclined to vote “no” in the April 16 referendum as a pro-PKK terrorist. Worse, as if it was not the AKP that was in bed with Fethullah Gülen’s group until they disagreed in power sharing, anyone daring to vote “no” is now considered a supporter of the outlawed group.
Neither the “no” votes can be turned into “yes” votes or vice versa. The “yes” and “no” camps have been long consolidated. Both sides are very much aware of this reality. The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is divided into two blocks. Loyalists to the party headquarters and party leader Devlet Bahçeli are supportive of the constitutional amendments, the opponents, headed by Meral Akşener and other prominent nationalists expelled from the party, are staunchly critical of the changes. The Kurds are vocally against the changes, though there are rumors that some secret deal is still being negotiated between the AKP and İmralı, the island where the leader of the PKK is imprisoned in. The separatist gang was considering the presidential system as a mechanism that might carry Turkey to federalism. Nowadays, pro-PKK politicians and the PKK chieftains have been issuing statements condemning the super president aspirations of Erdoğan, wowing to vote and kill his “dictatorial designs.” Will they indeed vote “no” on April 16? Probably.
The over 20 percent undecided group and a high percentage of undecided voters said to exist in the AKP flank, on the other hand, will most likely define the color of the referendum result. Depending on their choice at the ballot box, either the white-colored “yes” ballot or the brownish-colored “no” ballot will prevail. Less than four weeks before the April 16 vote, even Erdoğan’s active involvement in the campaign apparently could not succeed to reduce the undecided group among the traditional AKP voters.
On the “no” flank, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leaders and 10 deputies are in prison, speculations continue about a “deal” with İmralı. Nationalists are generally led by Akşener, who might emerge as the new leader of the nationalists who are disgruntled with Bahçeli’s alliance with Erdoğan. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) so far has been refusing to engage in hot acrimony with the AKP and Erdoğan. This passive attitude so far worked well. Yet, there appears to be a deficiency of energy in the “no” flank. Probably the high “no” vote in polls is a product of the perception that the Kemalist republic faced an existential threat with the constitutional amendments.
If most of the undecided are those who might vote “no,” but are scared to say publicly, why Erdoğan and the AKP have been working so much on the undecided voters becomes clear.