First Published: 2017-02-17

Erdogan supporters 'increasingly demonising' 'no' voters
Polls are indicating tight race with approval for plan to grant Turkish President greater powers by no means foregone conclusion.
Middle East Online

The referendum will be held in April

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters are increasingly demonising voters thinking of rejecting a plan to grant him greater powers in an April referendum, raising fears of a further polarisation of society.

Turkey will on April 16 vote in a referendum on constitutional changes to create a presidential system which Erdogan argues is needed for better governance but critics fear will lead to one man rule.

Polls are indicating a tight race with approval for the plan by no means a foregone conclusion, opening the way for the kind of no-holds-barred campaign in which Erdogan revels.

Erdogan, who Friday kicked off his campaign in the eastern city of Kahramanmaras, has already accused those who plan to vote 'no' of siding with the failed July 15 coup plot blamed by the authorities on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.

"To be honest those who say 'no' are on the side of July 15," he said in a speech

this week. "Who are the ones saying 'no'? Those who want to break up the country. Those who are opposed to our flag."

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim meanwhile has said a 'no' vote is what is wanted by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the group of Gulen, which Ankara terms the Fethullah Terror Group (FETO).

"The terrorist groups are campaigning in chorus for the 'no' vote," he said. "My citizens are not going to stand alongside terrorist groups."

- 'Deep polarisation' -

Analysts say the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is falling back on a tried and tested strategy of stigmatising those who vote against its domination.

Samim Akgonul, researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), said this strategy had proved the AKP's "winning machine".

"The AKP leaders will do all they can to make sure the campaign does not focus on the content of the changes but on the supposed identity of those voters who vote 'yes' or 'no', he said.

Analysts say the referendum will be largely about Erdogan, the leader who has dominated Turkey for nearly one and a half decades, first as premier from 2003-2014 and now and president since 2014.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, said Erdogan had proved a matchwinner in elections by increasing incomes but also by demonising sections of society unlikely to vote for him.

"The latter has resulted in deep societal polarisation," said Cagaptay, author of the forthcoming "The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey".

"While nearly half of Turkey adores Erdogan, the other half, demonised by him, loathes the Turkish president and will never fold under him."

- 'Clever strategy' -

Prominent Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan -- no relation of the president -- said the referendum was not about the constitution but being for or against Erdogan.

"If you say 'no' you are a demon. This is the essence of their strategy and it is clever," Asli Erdogan, who was this month released after four months in prison, said.

The head of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu vehemently criticised the tactics of the government: "They don't know how to convince the people to vote 'yes'."

Even the word 'no' has itself been stigmatised, with popular TV series Hayat Sarkisi (Song of Life) accused of carrying a subliminal message when a family votes 'no' around a table over whether to visit a relative.

Satirists have derided these excesses with satirical weekly Penguen producing a memorable cover showing a woman rejecting a man's proposal to marry her. "I will denounce you," says the suitor.

Well-connected Hurriyet daily columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said that the authorities were seeking to strike a careful balance between linking a 'no' vote to Turkey's enemies and not alienating voters with a negative message.

The referendum is coming with tens of thousands awaiting trial on charges of assisting the putsch, in an unprecedented crackdown. The authorities however insist citizens are free to vote as they wish.

"If a single person is detained or arrested for saying vote 'no' in the referendum then I will resign today," said Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag. "There is nothing of the sort."

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire