Over the past week or so, the main theme of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s referendum campaign has transformed from promoting the benefits of the constitutional shift consolidating all executive power in presidential hands to bashing the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Erdoğan has been saying there are some suspicions about what Kılıçdaroğlu was doing during some hours on the night of the failed military coup on July 15, 2016. He says this shows that the CHP
head was in contact with the pro-coup soldiers and “escaped” to a nearby CHP
district official’s house after coming to an agreement with tanks blocking the roads to Istanbul’s Atatürk
Airport. He thus “escaped” from the site, instead of climbing on top of tanks as he had vowed to do in the event of a military coup (a kind of Boris Yeltsin metaphor in Turkish politics).
Erdoğan has also said that if he had known Kılıçdaroğlu had been in contact with the pro-coup soldiers, he would not have invited the CHP
leader to the Aug. 7, 2016 “national unity” rally against the defeated coup attempt, believed to have been masterminded by the U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen.
By coincidence, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) Deputy Chair Hayati Yazıcı and Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü were on board the same 21:50 p.m. Turkish Airlines flight from Ankara
to Istanbul on the night of the coup attempt. Both have told reporters that they did not see any tanks around the airport, and indeed Yazıcı and Kılıçdaroğlu were sitting next to each other. Yazıcı has also said they all voiced the need to stand against the coup attempt together, after which he himself left the airport to head to the nearby AK Parti district office.
Kılıçdaroğlu has asked Erdoğan to produce evidence that he was in contact with the coup plotters, otherwise he would consider it to be nothing more than “slander.” He also said that he joined the Aug. 7 rally not because Erdoğan invited him, but because he wanted to be part of a united stance against military interventions into politics. The CHP
head has, meanwhile, said he would not be answering any further accusations from Erdoğan until after the April 16 referendum.
Only three days remain until referendum day. It hard to understand why Erdoğan and the AK Parti have refocused the campaign on the CHP
and its leader. ANAR, one of Turkey’s biggest pollsters, forecasted on April 11 that the “Yes” votes to approve the constitutional shift as desired by Erdoğan would prevail by 52 percent. Daily Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi has predicted 53 percent, based on his contacts within the AK Parti. He wrote on April 12 that the AK Parti government has already started to prepare for a “new era” to begin on April 17.
Erdoğan received 52 percent of the vote when he was elected president in 2014, while the AK Parti won almost 50 percent in the November 2015 election. So Selvi’s forecast means that the AK Parti assumes there will either be mostly “No” votes coming from supporters of the Devlet Bahçeli-led Nationalist Movement Party (which received 10.8 percent in 2015), or some AK Parti voters will have drifted away from Erdoğan’s “Yes” campaign. Perhaps it will be a combination of both. The question is, how much?
Support for the CHP
in the November 2015 election was 25 percent. The HDP received 1
0.3 percent, but not all HDP votes are likely to go to the polls because of the physical fact that some 500,000 voters were displaced during clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) and security forces in 2015-16. Most of them have not registered again in the places where they are now living temporarily. But let’s assume a 9 percent from the HDP: That still only makes a combined CHP-HDP total of 34 percent. There is still a big difference between 34 percent and 47 or 48 percent as ANAR and Selvi predict, (even if all of 2.5 percent of Virtue Party supporters vote “No.”)
Ultimately, 50 percent plus one vote is enough for a victory for Erdoğan, and either 52 or 53 percent would be more than enough for that.
So why does the AK Parti still appear so worried? Why has Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım for days now been campaigning very hard in the western province of İzmir, where “No” votes are likely to prevail? Why is Erdoğan still promising to bring back the death penalty, knowing that would finally break political relations with the European Union? Why is so much pressure being put on the “No” camp if the “Yes” votes have already won and the government has already started to work on post-victory scenarios?