A split within the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) regarding the April 16 referendum that will decide whether the current parliamentary system should be replaced with an executive presidency has deepened with attacks against party dissidents.
While MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli is campaigning for a “yes” vote, the dissidents are endorsing a “no” vote at events around the country.
A hall being used by MHP dissidents Ümit Özdağ, who was expelled from the party and is now an independent lawmaker from Gaziantep, and Yusuf Halaçoğlu, an MHP lawmaker from Kayseri, was attacked by a group late on March 8 in the Silifke district of the southern province of Mersin.
The dissidents were about to speak as part of their “no” campaign for the upcoming referendum on a presidential system when the group entered the hall.
Özdağ and Halaçoğlu were ushered out of the hall as part of security measures, as the group shouted slogans supporting Bahçeli.
“The real leader of the movement is Devlet Bahçeli,” the group of nearly a hundred people shouted while smashing objects in the hall.
A number of police officers were dispatched to the area and the lawmakers were able to make their speeches after the group was dispersed.
Speaking about the incident, Halaçoğlu said such attacks “won’t discourage them.”
“If they think that we will be discouraged by these actions, they’re wrong. We didn’t take the road for the governance of one person. We are in this for the continuity of the Turkish Republic’s parliamentary system and values,” Halaçoğlu told OdaTV, adding that “they swore to protect the charter.”
“Is it a crime to defend this constitution? We swore on our honor to protect this charter,” he added.
Özdağ, meanwhile, said that “there was open negligence by the police in the incident.”
“I was also attacked in 2005 in Silifke. The crowd dispersed when the police fired into the air. However, I think that there is open negligence by the police in this attack because there was a single staircase and they left it open. They thought that we would escape, but we kept sitting. The police had to protect us,” Özdağ said, adding that the incident occurred “as a result of Bahçeli’s order.”
“He is responsible for each drop of blood that will be spilled,” he also said.
Özdağ was referring to Bahçeli’s comments on an attack against another MHP dissident, Sinan Oğan, on March 4. A man shouting “The real leader of the movement is Devlet Bahçeli” attacked Oğan while he was giving a speech in Istanbul.
“An idealist would never leave something unfinished,” Bahçeli told journalists on March 7, when his opinion about the attack was asked, referring to the “Ülkücüler” (Idealists), a movement with close ties to the MHP.
Another MHP dissident, Meral Akşener, condemned the attack.
“I strongly condemn the attack on Özdağ and Halaçoğlu during a conference in Silifke,” Akşener tweeted on March 8.
MHP dissidents have previously announced that they had formed a group to campaign for a “no” vote in the April 16 referendum.
The committee is led by Akşener, Oğan, Koray Aydın and Özdağ, who all tried to run for the MHP leadership last year but saw their attempt stymied by their party and the court system.