Accusations, counter accusations, heated debates and lots of hot air have taken Turkey under their grip as political leaders crisscross the country addressing the crowds urging them either to vote “yes” or “no” for the 26-article constitutional amendment package for which the balloting will take place on September 12.
Yes sayers claim that the package will free the nation from the yoke of a bureaucratic regime that has placed itself above the elected representatives of the people, namely the National Assembly, clear the last vestiges of the September 12, 1980 military coup and establish new rights for the working people, women, children and pensioners, put the military under the firm control of the civilian government and bring civil rights up to the level of internationally accepted norms.
Nay sayers argue that the package has been tailored to suit the needs of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remove all the judicial controls over government practices opening the way towards a single-party, single leader autocratic regime in the country. They allege that once the package is accepted, the judiciary including the Constitutional Court and Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) will come under the full control of AKP, since President Abdullah Gul along with Erdogan and majority of the parliament will have the final say in majority of the appointments to these bodies.
There are also those who campaign for boycotting the balloting spearheaded by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) that claims the amendments do not even mention the existence of the Kurdish people and ignore their demands.
The main theme of Prime Minister Erdogan during his campaigning is that the package will settle accounts with the perpetrators of the 1980 coup. He accuses the nay sayers of siding with the military junta of Kenan Evren by opposing any change in the 1982 Constitution. In his fiery speeches at campaign rallies he has limped together the main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP), ultra nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), BDP and even the illegal Kurdish separatist PKK
for joining together in opposing the package.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the new leader of CHP, accuses Erdogan for deliberately misrepresenting the contents of the package and claims that 30 years after the coup, most of the junta members are dead anyway and those who remain will benefit from the principle of barring any legal action because of the lapse of time. He further argues that the package does neither touch the 10 percent national election threshold for any political party to be represented in the parliament nor the parliamentary immunity that protects deputies from litigation even against criminal offenses. According to the CHP leader, these are the main shortcomings of the Turkish democracy that favors those in power. He proposes a decrease of 5 percent in the election threshold and lifting of parliamentary immunities if he comes to power.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of MHP, for his part, campaigns mainly playing on nationalist sentiments, accusing the prime minister of giving in to the Kurdish demands, encouraging PKK and leading to an increase in violence in the Kurdish areas.
With all the parties adamant in their position, there seems to be no compromise in the horizon, a sine qua non of any constitutional change that should, in principle, represent the feelings of a vast majority of the people. Opinion polls show that the distribution of “yes” and “no” votes is almost even in the referendum race.