12 September Constitutional Referendum: What’s your vote?
In one month from today, on the 30th anniversary of the 12 September military coup, Turkey will vote in a referendum on a constitutional amendments package. The package, developed by the ruling AK Party and approved by parliament in mid-May, will reform 26 articles from the 1982 constitution. The AKP is pushing hard for votes, saying the amendment package will strengthen democracy and boost the chances of Turkey’s EU accession. Critics say, among other objections, that the referendum vote is merely an AKP device to gain control of the judiciary. And critics abound. Former MHP member Yaşar Okuyan, who recently joined the CHP, was imprisoned after the coup. He sees the current reforms as a ploy to purge judges and prosecutors who almost succeeded in having the AKP banned in 2007 for having Islamist ties.
A recent survey shows there are slightly more who say they will vote against the referendum than for it. The Sonar research company’s survey reveals that 50.8% of respondents said they would vote ‘no,’ whereas 49.2% said they would vote ‘yes”. The survey, apparently, did not ask about a boycott.
It seems that opposition parties in parliament are more likely to vote against the measures or completely boycott the process. Parties outside of parliament are showing more support.
For example, the pro-Kurdish BDP with 19 seats in parliament, is firmly in favour of an out-and-out boycott, saying they ‘will return the ballot boxes empty.’ The other two pro-Kurdish parties, who are not represented in parliament, the Rights and Liberties Party (HAKPAR), and the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP), are both urging ‘yes’ votes.
Why the insistence on an all-out boycott? One reason, says BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş, was the recent riots by Turkish ultra-nationalists against Kurdish civilians in some areas of the country. Demirtaş says that Prime Minister Erdoğan is responsible for the ‘lack of security’ in these areas and that the ‘AKP harbours ill intentions and supports coup-plotters.’
BDP co-chair Gülten Kışanak said last week in Urfa that a ‘yes’ vote is a vote that supports ‘patching up’ the existing coup constitution, and that voting ‘no’ is to legitimise it.
On 01 August, thousands of Kurds staged a rally in the streets of Istanbul to voice their disappointment with the planned reforms. Kurdish MP Sebahat Tuncel highlighted the need for amendments to the current constitution, but complained at the rally that the ‘reform proposal was created because of the Kurdish identity issue, but unfortunately the proposed reform package does not take a single step toward solving the Kurds’ problem.’
On the other end, HAKPAR leader, Bayram Bozyel, feels that the BDP is ‘distorting’ the issue based on the fact that there is no article in the amendments package that directly relates to the Kurds. ‘We know that democracy in Turkey is directly related to every problem, including the Kurdish problem. When we say democracy, it doesn’t mean mentioning the Kurdish problem specifically,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan is planning to send letters to millions of youth across the country. More than 3 million youths have reached voting age since 2007 and they will soon be received a ‘please vote yes’ letter from the AKP. The AK Party will also hold fast-breaking dinners throughout the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to ask for support from the public.
The opposition parties, namely the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are carrying out a ‘no’ campaign against the reforms.
There is also a referendum group calling itself ‘Yetmez ama evet’ (Not enough, but yes) whose supporters come from various segments of society, including intellectuals, artists and journalists.
The main revisions to the constitution would make the military more accountable to civilian courts as well as give parliament a say in appointing judges. It would also allow public servants the right to collective agreement and the right to strike, and end immunity from prosecution for 1980 military coup leaders. For more details on the specifics of the 26 articles to be amended, see Factbox: Turkey’s constitutional reform.
So what’s your vote?