The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) announced last week that it will not challenge the government’s constitutional reform bill in court. This removes the final legal hurdle to the introduction of a presidential system of government, and so paves the way for a referendum on 16 April.
Recent polls indicate that the result of the plebiscite will be tight. But we think that Erdogan will probably secure enough public backing for the reform package and so replace the current parliamentary system. This is largely based on the president’s past electoral performances and the limitations on opposition in Turkey.
A poll carried out on 4-5 February by Gezici, a Turkish research group, indicated that those against the amendments led by two percentage points, but also that 10.6% of respondents were undecided. At least two other recent polls reflect this result, with two others indicating the opposite result. All show that it is a close race. However, polls in Turkey have not always been an accurate indicator of voter intentions. For example, pollsters failed to forecast the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) majority victory in the November 2015 parliamentary election.
We think that the poll results indicating the public could vote against the reforms may have influenced the CHP to drop its legal challenge. This is because the public vote presents an opportunity for the party to successfully campaign against the measures. However, a lack of faith in the judicial system probably also affected the CHP’s decision. The party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, criticised the constitutional court in January for not challenging decrees issued under the state of emergency that has been in place since the failed coup attempt last summer.
The CHP and Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) both recently expressed concern over the fairness of the referendum but have confirmed they will participate. The HDP said on Monday that continuing arrests of its members since the failed coup are part of an attempt by the government to exclude it from the referendum. The CHP pointed to a 9 February decree stripping the electoral authority of oversight of the media during the campaign and said it will lead to coverage of ‘only one side’, meaning the government’s. The government’s crackdown on media since last summer has created a largely pro-government media environment that we expect Erdogan to capitalise on to rally supporters to vote for the changes.
President Erdogan began a 30-stop campaign tour over the weekend. This followed his admission last week that support for the reforms is currently ‘insufficient’ and that people ‘need to be better informed’. He held five rallies in the Anatolian cities of Kahramanmara?, Malatya, Elaz?g, Ad?yaman and Gaziantep?. He won resounding victories of around 70% in four of these cities and 60% in Gaziantep at the 2014 presidential election. This indicates that Erdogan is likely looking to mobilise his existing support base, rather than attempt to win over new supporters.
He and the AKP have won every election since 2002, only losing a parliamentary majority for a six-month period in 2015. They have succeeded in recent elections by promising stability amid a rising threat of terrorism and will probably present increased powers for Erdogan as a way to help deliver this. Erdogan’s personal popularity also increased following the coup attempt and we expect him and the AKP to successfully mobilise a ‘yes’ vote in April.
Image: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AMISOM Photo/Ilyas Ahmed/Creative Commons