The countdown begins: Turks brace themselves for rallies ahead of referendum

Published April 10th, 2017 - 11:31 GMT
Izmir's Republic Square cordoned off in preparations for rallies in support of Turkey's President Erdogan and the constitutional amendments. (Facebook)
Izmir's Republic Square cordoned off in preparations for rallies in support of Turkey's President Erdogan and the constitutional amendments. (Facebook)

With six days to go until Turkey’s referendum on a new constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and evet (“yes”) camp are pulling out all the stops to mobilize supporters.

Last night, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition party CHP, was slated to give an interview on state-run broadcaster TRT – but instead the broadcaster at the last minute postponed his interview and showed footage of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at a rally in support of the referendum.

“The most typical example of a one-man regime has happened this evening. The state broadcaster should remain equal to all parties,” Kilicdaroglu said in his interview when it was broadcasted later that night.

The proposed changes to Turkey’s constitution would introduce a presidential system, giving Erdogan unprecedented power as both head of government and head of state, with the power to appoint or sack the Vice President and ministers.

In the last remaining days before the referendum, Turks are hunkering down for huge rallies in public squares and possible unrest.

In the Aegean coast city of Izmir, typically regarded as Turkey’s most liberal city and a bastion of support for the CHP, AKP is reportedly bussing in evet supporters from outside the city. Izmir’s main Cumhuriyet Meydani (Republic Square) and the roads around it have been cordoned off with a stage for rallies and space for busses to park and unload supporters.

"Flags all over the place after the Izmir rally!" 

Meanwhile, in Izmir and in the eastern, largely Kurdish city of Van, election vehicles from the leftist opposition Democratic People’s Party (HDP) have been seized by police, according to the Dihaber website.

Co-leaders of the HDP Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag have been imprisoned in Turkey on charges of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey regards as a "terrorist" organization.

The constitutional changes have created a rift in Turkey’s political system; former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly resigned over disagreements with Erdogan over the scope of powers envisioned in the presidential system. And even former President Abdullah Gul, a founding member of Erdogan’s AKP, has declined to speak at rallies in support of the referendum.

Around one million Turkish expats have already cast their votes from abroad, and right now how Izmir or any other city in Turkey might swing on April 16 is anyone’s guess – but that hasn’t stopped hayir (“no”) supporters from getting their message out, too.

"Look down to see what Izmir is saying! Izmir has the most "no" votes in the country."

Lindsey Leger

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