Turks Go To Polls To Decide On Nation’s Future

In a historic vote on Sunday, more than 50 million Turks will give a verdict whether to approve President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid for an executive presidential system in a referendum on an 18-article constitutional amendment.

The vote is poised to herald a regime change, a total transformation of nearly a century-old political system formed with the foundation of the republic if Yes votes prevail today.

Popular approval of the constitutional reform will be a crowning achievement in the long political career of Mr. Erdogan who has long sought for a presidential system.

According to latest polls, the results are too close to call. But respected polling agency Konda puts Yes votes as 51.5% while 48.5 of the voters will choose No. Konda expects a high turnout as much as 90%.

It’s survey conducted in 30 provinces after having face-to-face questionnaire with 3,462 people. Another credible poll from Gezici says 51.3% will vote ‘Yes’, showing that it is a neck-to-neck race.

The only survey that puts No votes slightly ahead of Yes is conducted by SONAR. It says 51.2% of voters will say ‘No’ at referendum while 48.8% choose ‘Yes’ vote.

The majority of polls suggest a close, tight race while Ail Gur’s company sparked sensation with putting Yes votes as 60.8% while No votes remain 39.2%.

Given the history of Mr. Erdogan’s electoral victories either in parliamentary or local elections or referendums since 2002, or presidential race in 2014, nowhere he was close to such a high figure. Adil Gur’s survey has met with harsh criticism from both experts and opponents.

Mr. Erdogan’s ruling AKP was able to garner 57.8% of votes during a previous constitutional referendum in 2010. It was the best result he ever had.

Only days before the referendum, a sudden rift emerged between Mr. Erdogan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahceli whose support is vital for passing the constitutional amendment through popular vote.

When one of President Erdogan’s advisors tossed the idea of federal system after the referendum, Mr. Bahceli showed signs of backtracking and threatened to withdraw his crucial support unless the president offers a reassurance.

Nationalist Turks are adamantly opposed to the adoption of a federal system on the ground that it may pave way for regional autonomies at the expense of central government. President Erdogan’s advisor Sukru Karatepe broached the subject of a state system that would replace with Turkey’s current provincial system to re-organize distribution of administrative powers between Ankara and local administrations.

The issue lies at the heart of a different set of proposals to resolve Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish conflict. Some pro-government policy experts, counselors to President Erdogan believe that a federal system would facilitate a political solution by formation of a state system. It was in the near past designed to secure the backing of Kurds for Mr. Erdogan’s presidential bid while allowing regional autonomy in return.

With the renewal of fighting between the government and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after June 7, 2015 parliamentary elections, that option was shelved. Instead, Mr. Erdogan turned his face to nationalist Turks to bolster his battered political standing.

After Mr. Bahceli’s threat on Thursday night, President Erdogan was in damage control mode and move to salvage his shaky referendum alliance. He said, at great length, that there is no plan for a shift to federal system.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim even banned TV programs of AKP experts and advisors, prohibited debates on the federal system to assuage jolted nerves of their nationalist ally.

A day before the referendum, the MHP leader on Saturday appeared satisfied with reassurances from the president and prime minister, abandoning his threat to pull out his support for the constitutional measures.

The nationalist party has already gone through an internal upheaval and insurgency as Mr. Bahceli’s opponents are ferociously against the presidential system which they say amounts to a one-man rule, a dictatorship with no checks and balances.

The vote even pit members of Turkes family against each other. MHP’s legendary founder and nationalist leader Alparslan Turkes’s wife, daughter announced that they will vote No while son Tugrul Turkes, a deputy prime minister in AKP government, will vote Yes. Once an avowed opponent of the presidential system, son Turkes has become an ardent backer of Mr. Erdogan and his presidential dream.

Whether Mr. Erdogan’s life-long ambition will come true or not, Turkish voters will have the final say today.

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