Statement, 8 March 2017

On 16 April the future of Turkish democracy will be in the hands of the people. In calling for a No vote, the HDP and the Kurds are on the enlightened side of history and stand as courageous defenders of democracy.

On 16 April 2017 the citizens of Turkey will be asked to vote in a referendum that could permanently change their lives and alter the nature of their country forever.

President Erdogan is determined that the outcome will be the one that he wants – an overwhelming popular approval for his long cherished constitutional reforms that are designed primarily to grant more power to his office and keep him in the presidential palace for many more years to come. Erdogan has been riding a wave of popularity in the aftermath of the failed coup, but there are emerging signs of economic uncertainties ahead and people’s lives are far from improving.

This referendum is being held at an extraordinary time when the country is deeply divided and riddled with conflict; not least of which is the war waged against the entire Kurdish community and their elected representatives, many of whom have been detained and jailed on erroneous charges. Today the country’s Kurdish citizens are under concerted attack as never before – from their own government in Ankara.

The referendum will come only months after the failed military coup attempt of 15 July 2016 and when a major and expansive crackdown on all opposition continues unabated. It will be held when the state is waging a war on dissent at home and interfering in Syria across the border, not to fight Islamic State terrorists but to undermine the major gains made by the Syrian Kurds in Rojava.

Erdogan has long viewed the Kurds as at best an inconvenience and at worst an obstacle in the way of achieving his dream of unrivalled presidential power. The electoral successes of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in past elections enraged Erdogan.

Clearly, he doesn’t like people who express contrary opinions. He is not a natural democrat and views his political opponents as enemies who deserve to be eliminated. A Yes vote will only encourage Erdogan to move onwards to greater authoritarianism. Kurds are calling for a No vote and are quite right so to do.

The HDP has joined forces with other progressive parties to launch a united campaign and is calling on supporters to reject the amendments by turning out on 16 April to vote No. They reason that to call for a boycott of the poll will simply strengthen the Yes vote.

An atmosphere of fear and intimidation has been deliberately fostered in the country where anyone who disagrees with the policies of the AKP is accused of disloyalty, treachery or terrorism.

As a consequence, more people have become quietened as they are afraid to speak out and voice dissenting opinions. They see the fate of others, the prisons filling up with opponents of Erdogan and others being thrown of their jobs.  This hardly makes for an environment that will be conducive to conducting a fair referendum campaign.

The dangers of the 18 constitutional amendments are that they will transfer more power to Erdogan, transforming the country from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency.

A report titled Will presidential referendum kill Turkey’s democracy? (Al Monitor, 23 January 2017), summed up the alarming implications of the referendum proposals:

“The amendments basically involve a new system of governance, switching from a parliamentarian to a presidential regime. A closer look, however, leaves little doubt that the objective goes well beyond that. The draft contains all the elements that would move Turkey away from the core norms of a pluralist, democratic state of law — separation of powers and a system of checks and balances — and transform it into a majoritarian authoritarian system.”

Erdogan and the AKP insist that these changes are needed to secure lasting stability in the country. An executive presidency is a dream that Erdogan has long held. The trouble is that his dream is the worst nightmare of many of the nation’s citizens.

The AKP believes that all means at its disposal have to be employed to win the Yes vote, including exceeding their powers because they intend to change the law at will to suit them if they win the vote.

Moreover, the referendum campaign has brought Erdogan into direct confrontation with some of his European allies, especially Germany. Reports that some German municipalities had blocked planned pro-Erdogan rallies in cities where there are sizeable Turkish populations brought an angry response from the Turkish president who used absurd and inflammatory language against German politicians (“not much different than Nazi practices”) which has only deepened the rift.

Clearly, Erdogan is getting more than a little anxious because there is an awful lot at stake. Some 1.5 million Turkish citizens live in Germany and Erdogan looks like he will need every single vote he can muster in order to secure a convincing majority for a Yes vote that will then give him the authority to implement the amendments. A defeat would be a disaster for him. If Erdogan were to lose the referendum his political reputation would be seriously tarnished and his dreams of an executive presidency would be derailed.

Hence, his outburst against Germany is but a symptom of the near hysteria that currently pervades Turkish politics.

The changes to the constitution are deeply divisive. It is impossible to believe that a Yes vote will bring the country together, as its AKP supporters insist.

This is not at all a process of modernisation that Erdogan has embarked on. The proposals for reform to be put before Turkish voters on 16 April are not a sign that the country is advancing towards a mature democracy; on the contrary, it suggests that Turkey is retreating ever more into a form of dictatorship which will put it further at odds with its allies.

Fortunately there is no inevitability about the outcome. On 16 April the future of Turkish democracy will be in the hands of the people. In calling for a No vote, the HDP and the Kurds are on the enlightened side of history and stand as courageous defenders of democracy.

Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890

Patrons: Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary,  Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federations of Trade Unions, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, James Kelman, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell, Steve Sweeney