Turkey’s referendum on expanding the president’s power is facing resistance both from inside and outside the country. The country is deeply divided over the constitutional changes proposed by President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan. It would bring an executive presidential system, merging the powers of the prime minister and the president. Erdogan argues that a strong presidency will make Turkey better equipped to deal with economic and security challenges.
At home, there are reports that opposition figures faced threats, violence, arbitrary detentions, media blackout and even sabotage in the campaign for a referendum. ‘No’ campaigners have accused media of being partisan. They are fighting an uphill battle as TV channels are either pro-government or refrain from broadcasts anything critical of the government fearing reprisals. Erdogan and members of the government have dominated the airwaves. Meanwhile, the pro-government media largely ignore campaign rallies by the ‘no’ camp.
‘No’ campaigners are being intimidated in various ways. They face deliberate electricity cut during rallies, leaflets are torn apart and podium is attacked. They have accused pro-government camp of attempting to silence their voice. A leader of ‘no’ campaigner was forced to hold event in the dark after the electricity at venue in the city of Canakkale was cut off.
Also, Erdogan got into the war of words with European leaders as he seeks to build support among Turkish expatriate voters for an executive presidency. First, two German municipalities cited safety concerns for blocking a referendum rally. Erdogan called the rulings “not different from Nazi practices.”
Second, in the Netherlands, Turkish Family Affairs Minister Fatma Kaya was denied entry into her consulate and escorted to the border with Germany. Turkish president blasted the Netherlands decision. He blamed Dutch “corrupt” character for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnians under the watch of a Dutch contingent of peacekeepers. Turkey said they wouldn’t allow a Dutch ambassador back into the country and cancelled flight permissions for diplomats from the Netherlands.
Turkish politicians opposing the constitutional changes say the post-coup emergency prevents them from getting their message out ahead of the vote. Those who advocate for a ‘no’ vote are faced with a series of obstructions. At stake are changes that would usher in an executive presidential system, merging the powers of the prime minister and the president. Critics say it would give Erdogan too much control and further erode the democratic separation of powers in the country.
The referendum is being sold by the members of Erdogan’s government as a “window of opportunity” to put the country on stronger economic footing. But what is important is to allow opposition to express their opinion. Government is resorting to suppress anti-Erdogan demonstrations and gatherings. A fair election is not possible with restrictions on the
freedom of expression and the right to assembly.
And if a constitutional referendum must absolutely be held during a state of emergency, restrictions on political freedoms have to be lifted. Those opposing the constitutional referendum must be permitted to
express their concerns. Also, election observers should be allowed to
monitor the vote.