Turkey's 'yes', 'no' camps target undecided voters

Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party shouting slogans and holding flags saying "no" during a Vote No rally in Istanbul on April 8. A majority "yes" vote in today's referendum on constitutional reform in Turkey will change the country's
Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party shouting slogans and holding flags saying "no" during a Vote No rally in Istanbul on April 8. A majority "yes" vote in today's referendum on constitutional reform in Turkey will change the country's parliamentarian system of governance to a presidential one.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Both sides mount last-ditch efforts to sway referendum on expanding Erdogan's powers

ISTANBUL • Turkey's top politicians made a final effort yesterday to sway undecided voters in a frenetic end to a bitterly contested campaign in the referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Campaigning was due to end by 1500 GMT (11pm Singapore time), but both the "yes" and "no" camps were squeezing in a flurry of rallies as the clock ticked down to today's landmark poll.

Analysts see the poll as a historic choice on the direction of the Nato member, which will shape its future political system and determine relations with the West.

If passed, the new presidential system will implement the most radical political shake-up since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, dispensing with the Office of the Prime Minister and centralising the entire executive bureaucracy under the presidency.

Mr Erdogan, in a late night interview with TRT state television, confidently predicted victory, saying surveys showed a "yes" vote of 55 per cent to 60 per cent.

"I think that could be a very clear outcome in favour of 'yes'," he said.

Opinion polls have predicted drastically different outcomes and victories for both sides. But the ruling party and presidency are widely believed to conduct their own confidential polling.

Mr Erdogan, who has dominated the airwaves in recent weeks with multiple daily rallies and interviews, was due to give four more speeches in Istanbul.

"God willing, this nation will celebrate tomorrow evening," he said yesterday, in the first of the rallies.

"Tomorrow is very important, you will definitely go to ballot box and cast your vote," he told supporters.

The standard bearer of the "no" camp, Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, warned at a meeting in the Ankara region that Turkey was deciding if "we want to continue with the democratic parliamentary system or a one-man rule".

He described the new system as "a bus with no brakes and whose destination is unknown".

The opposition has cried foul that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with "yes" posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

The two co-leaders of the second opposition party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, have been jailed on charges of backing Kurdish militants in what supporters say was a deliberate move to eliminate them from the campaign.

The HDP was due later yesterday to hold a final mass rally in its stronghold of Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey.

The Hurriyet daily report titled The Last Messages said: "With one day remaining to the historic referendum, the leaders are making the final calls to influence undecided voters."

The campaign, however, has not been plain sailing for Mr Erdogan, and some heavyweight figures within the ruling Justice and Development Party have been conspicuously silent on the new system.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey's 'yes', 'no' camps target undecided voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe