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SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ >What next after Europe for Turkey’s ‘Yes’ camp?

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There are four weeks left to go to the referendum on whether to shift the country from the current parliamentary system to an executive presidential system abolishing the prime ministry and decorating the president with super powers as the sole ruler of the country. However, Turkey’s agenda is still full of foreign policy crises with a number of European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, etc. 

The tension started with Germany and found its peak with the Netherlands. It allowed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to distract attention from the referendum campaign, though this spat with Europe has not brought a visible advantage to the “Yes” camp. 

The Turkish government is now expected to gradually soften its language against the EU and European countries, leaving this tension behind before it can cause more damage to national interests. 

The announced sanctions on the Netherlands will have no a major impact on Dutch interests, as Ankara will not dare impose economic measures against a country that has more than 2,000 companies operating in Turkey. 

The situation brings to mind Turkey’s threats against Germany after the Bundestag last year approved a law recognizing the mass killing of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Turkey’s sanctions against Germany were only temporary and had no major effect on bilateral ties. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hinted that Ankara could revise its relationship with the EU, while he and other senior government members have signaled putting an end to the March 18, 2016 migrant deal with EU. However, given current conditions it seems not very possible for the Turkish government to actually put these sanctions in place. 

On the contrary, we’ll likely see this tension being reduced over the next few days, with the AKP concentrating on the referendum campaign by revisiting old and new sources of polemics with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

Meanwhile, the AKP is not satisfied with the performance of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), its key ally in changing the system. Although President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım are campaigning at full speed for the package, with nearly daily rallies across the country, the MHP and its leader Devlet Bahçeli seem to be idle. 

In contrast, MHP dissidents, led by Meral Akşener and other former MHP lawmakers, are quite active across Turkey trying to convince nationalist grassroots not to vote in favor of the package, on the grounds that it will endanger the unity of the country. Bahçeli has so far been slow and ineffective in responding to these claims. 

The “No” camp seems to be more comfortable, with the CHP and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu conducting a cool-headed and not-so-aggressive campaign to persuade the public that these changes are dangerous and will introduce one-man rule. Some of the arguments voiced by Kılıçdaroğlu have been heard by the masses, which has prompted the AKP to intensify its efforts to explain to the public its view of the package. 

The pro-Kurdish HDP is also active, but is deliberately keeping a low profile in order to not provoke nationalist voters, while also monitoring the impact of Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani’s call for a “Yes” vote.   

Those who take the pulse of Kurdish voters closely believe they represent a rather united front against the changes, not only in southeast Anatolia but also in the urban centers of Istanbul.  

Nevertheless, there is still a month left until the polls and it is sure that the “Yes” camp will accelerate its campaigning using all means possible, leaving nothing to chance.

March/18/2017

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