‘Yes’ and ‘no’ camps in fierce race as polls near

‘Yes’ and ‘no’ camps in fierce race as polls near

‘Yes’ and ‘no’ camps in fierce race as polls near

AFP photo

Both the “yes” and “no” camps have visibly geared up their campaigns with harsh rhetoric and reciprocal accusations with just three days until one of Turkey’s most important referendums ever. 

The neck-and-neck race for a “50 percent plus one vote” between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on the “yes” side and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on the “no” side will end on April 16 after around 55 million Turkish voters cast their votes on the charter package. 

The “yes” camp has been focusing its campaign on the notion that the package will open the way to a new era for Turkey that will be more stable, prosperous and terror-free, especially after the failed July 2016 coup. 

“April 16 will herald lasting stability for Turkey,” Erdoğan said late April 12 in Istanbul in an address to the families of those who lost loved ones in the coup attempt. “God willing, April 16 will also be the day of the defeat of all terror organizations as it will herald a bright day shining on Turkey.” 

The “no” camp’s response was sharp. “You have been enjoying single-party government for 15 years. Who stopped you from bringing stability and prosperity and ending terror? Tell me, if you can, which laws weren’t you able to pass in parliament in those 15 years?” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu asked in an interview with CNN Türk late April 12. 

‘Changes to introduce one-man rule’

Kılıçdaroğlu’s strategy from the very beginning has been to highlight that the vote has nothing to do with the current political situation as the Turkish people will not vote for political parties but for the future of the country and of the state. “This is not an election. Turkey will determine its own fate. Are we going to abandon democracy or are we going to keep our democratic parliamentary system? The Turkish people will decide on it,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

The “no” camp has emphasized that Erdoğan’s sweeping executive power will turn him into a one-man ruler with a weak parliament in the absence of efficient checks and balances. 

Erdoğan and “yes” camp supporters recalled that the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was also the head of the CHP as well as the first president, in a bid to defy Kılıçdaroğlu’s arguments. 

“Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu is even unaware of the history of his own political party,” Erdoğan said. He also claimed that the draft constitutional amendments do not give the authority to dissolve the parliament but to renew both parliamentary and presidential elections, in a bid to respond Kılıçdaroğlu. 

“The right to dissolve parliament was even not given to Atatürk in 1924. But now if this is approved, one man will have the right to dissolve the parliament elected by the votes of 80 million people,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. 

Tension increases over past week 

While neither side has secured a decisive increase in votes in the last weeks, tension between the two sides has increased, especially after the “yes” camp, with its overbearing media support, chose to directly target Kılıçdaroğlu, especially after the CHP leader described the July 2016 putsch as a “controlled coup.”

Erdoğan accused Kılıçdaroğlu of communicating with the coup plotters on late July 15 in order to escape from Atatürk Airport. “Explain whom you talked to on the phone for 12 minutes? It seems the radars of the coup plotters didn’t detect Kılıçdaroğlu. Instead of apologizing to the Turkish people over what he did, he shamelessly said ‘July 15 is a controlled coup.’ A man should have shame and decency,” Erdoğan said. 

In response to this claim, Kılıçdaroğlu vowed to “quit politics” if claims that he held a 12-minute phone conversation with the coup plotters before leaving Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on the night of the coup attempt are proven.   

“If they prove that I spoke with [the coup plotters] for a minute, or even half-a-second, be assured that I will quit politics. What will we say if they cannot prove this? Let them say I spoke with anyone from [the Gülen movement] for a second. I trust myself that much,” he said.

Erdoğan will hold a final massive rally in the party’s conservative stronghold of Konya on April 14 and will continue campaigning in Istanbul on April 15 before election restrictions for campaigning begin to be implemented at 6 p.m. on April 15. 

Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, will be in Istanbul and in Ankara on the last two days of campaign process in a bid to capture the two biggest constituencies.