Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has just announced that the government’s referendum campaign will officially start on Feb. 25 with an event at the Ankara Arena. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already kicked off the “Yes” campaign with rallies in Mersin and Aksaray, and he will be in Malatya, Elazığ, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep and Adıyaman over the weekend.
The strategy team is currently working on the campaign. The final touches will be done after Erdoğan returns from his trip to the Gulf, and it is believed that the president and the prime minister will attend at least a couple of rallies together.
The campaign will have two legs. In the first leg, the theme “Yes” will be processed through posters, slogans and campaign music, while the planned constitutional changes will be explained positively. It will also be emphasized that a vote for “Yes” is a vote for “stability” and “development.”
In the second leg, the president and the prime minister will criticize the damage caused by a “No” vote. They will emphasize the claim that “the PKK, FETÖ, ISIL, the HDP and the CHP are all saying ‘no.’” The plan is to avoid language claiming that “whoever votes ‘no’ is a terrorist,” but they will still adopt discourse suggesting that a “No” vote “would make the terrorist happy.”
The failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt will also be repeatedly highlighted during the campaign. President Erdoğan regards this referendum as the political consequence of the coup attempt.
Internal polls are being continuously conducted by the government to take the pulse of the public. Results have shown the “Yes” votes to be around 51 to 54 percent, but affirmative votes have never exceeded 55 percent.
The “Yes” votes in the referendum and the support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are around the same level, as in recent surveys the AK Party’s votes are around 54.4 percent.
A contribution of 5 percent is expected from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The MHP administration is saying it is working hard to woo its grassroots. At this stage, 60 percent of the MHP’s grassroots are expected to vote “Yes,” so efforts are being made to further consolidate this. Many conservative Kurdish voters in the HDP are also expected to vote “Yes.”
The referendum campaign has not started yet but the voters are slowly making up their minds. Still, a number of negative developments have taken place over the past two weeks on the “Yes” front. It is said that adverse winds have started blowing for the first time. Especially in Istanbul and Ankara, a decline can be seen on the “Yes” front over the past two weeks. Although the slide may be very small, the AK Party administration is making much of it.
What has caused this negative current? First was the equating of “No” voters with members of the PKK, ISIL and FETÖ. Second was the dismissal of academics through statutory decrees. Third were the debates on the controversial new sovereign wealth fund. Fourth was the blocking of former MHP deputy Meral Akşener from delivering her speech at Çanakkale.
These developments strengthen the negative perceptions that Turkey is on the road to a one-man regime and authoritarianism.
The AK Party experienced a similar situation in the 2011 election. The harsh attacks on the family heritage of CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started to pull the AK Party’s votes down. When this was noticed, Erdoğan changed his discourse and started to use a more inclusive language. The winds changed and the AK Party ended up winning almost 50 percent of the vote.
The latest negative trend has emerged before the referendum campaign has started and is seen as an early warning. The aim in the “Yes” camp is to address this issue and change the direction of the wind.
Author: Abdulkadir Selvi