Turkey’s ref­er­en­dum cam­paign un­fair, op­po­nents say.

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE -

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Op­po­si­tion fig­ures in Turkey say they have faced threats, vi­o­lence, ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions, a lack of TV air­time and even sab­o­tage in the cam­paign for a ref­er­en­dum on ex­pand­ing the pres­i­dent’s pow­ers.

The com­plaints come even as Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan him­self has slammed Euro­pean coun­tries for not let­ting his min­is­ters cam­paign on their soil for the April 16 vote on giv­ing his of­fice more power.

Er­do­gan kept up the crit­i­cism in an Is­tan­bul speech on Sun­day, de­nounc­ing the Nether­lands and then sin­gling out Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

“You are com­mit­ting Nazi prac­tices too,” he said. “To whom? To my Turk­ish broth­ers and sis­ters in Ger­many.”

Politi­cians cam­paign­ing against the con­sti­tu­tional changes pro­posed by the Turk­ish pres­i­dent also say the state of emer­gency in Turkey since a failed coup at­tempt in July pre­vents them from get­ting their mes­sage out ahead of the vote.

“Those who ad­vo­cate for a ‘no’ vote are faced with a series of ob­struc­tions,” said Utku Cakirozer, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who is now a law­maker for the op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party, or CHP.

While he, too, crit­i­cized moves by Ger­many and the Nether­lands to stop Turk­ish min­is­ters from cam­paign­ing to Turk­ish cit­i­zens abroad, Cakirozer said “our democ­racy bar has been low­ered a great deal and needs to be raised rapidly.”

At stake are changes that would usher in an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial sys­tem, merg­ing the pow­ers of the prime min­is­ter and the pres­i­dent. Er­do­gan ar­gues that a strong pres­i­dency will make Turkey bet­ter equipped to deal with eco­nomic and se­cu­rity chal­lenges.

Crit­ics say it would give Er­do­gan too much con­trol and fur­ther erode the demo­cratic sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers in the coun­try.

With opin­ion polls sug­gest­ing the out­come of the tight race could be de­ter­mined by yet-un­de­cided vot­ers, “no” cam­paign­ers say they face an uphill bat­tle be­cause Turkey’s TV chan­nels are ei­ther pro-gov­ern­ment or re­frain from broad­casts crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment for fear of reprisals.

Er­do­gan and mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment have dom­i­nated the air­waves, hold­ing twice-daily cam­paign speeches that are tele­vised live in their en­tirety on all chan­nels. In­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­monies and state-funded of­fi­cial trips also fre­quently turn into “yes” cam­paign events.

Meanwhile, the pro-gov­ern­ment me­dia largely ig­nore cam­paign ral­lies by the “no” camp. Even sta­te­owned me­dia, which is obliged to be neu­tral, cuts away early from speeches de­liv­ered by CHP leader Ke­mal Kil­ic­daroglu.

Ibrahim Kalin, Er­do­gan’s spokesman, dis­puted claims of an un­even play­ing field, say­ing the op­po­si­tion was al­lowed to cam­paign freely.

“Just be­cause the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter’s ral­lies at­tract more num­bers and it looks like only ‘yes’ cam­paign­ing, that’s not true. It’s a mis­per­cep­tion,” he told jour­nal­ists last week.

The CHP says it has counted more than 100 in­ci­dents of ob­struc­tions to the “no” camp, rang­ing from phys­i­cal as­saults and death threats to de­ten­tions by po­lice.

Si­nan Ogan, a “no” cam­paigner who broke away from a na­tion­al­ist party that backs Er­do­gan, was in­ter­rupted in mid-speech this month at a univer­sity in Is­tan­bul by a man who ran on the stage and knocked down the podium, spark­ing scuf­fles in the hall.

“It’s ei­ther our elec­tric­ity cut (dur­ing ral­lies) or leaflets torn apart, or (the rally venue) is be­ing re­stored at the last mo­ment, or the podium is at­tacked, or there is an in­ter­rup­tion at­tempt so that we can­not speak,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “And even if you do speak, no TV sta­tion will air it.”

His po­lit­i­cal ally, Meral Ak­sener, was forced to hold a cam­paign event in the dark after the elec­tric­ity at her venue in the city of Canakkale was cut off.

Er­do­gan, who called the Dutch and Ger­man gov­ern­ments Nazis and fas­cists for bar­ring Turk­ish min­is­ters from cam­paign­ing in those coun­tries, has said those who op­pose the con­sti­tu­tional changes in­clude ter­ror­ists and coup-plot­ters.

“That is why I be­lieve my cit­i­zens, my broth­ers, will vote ‘yes,’” he said.

Turkey’s state of emer­gency al­lows the gov­ern­ment to rule by de­cree and to sup­press demon­stra­tions and gath­er­ings. Some 41,000 peo­ple have been ar­rested and tens of thou­sands of oth­ers dis­missed from pub­lic sec­tor jobs for al­leged links to the coup at­tempt or al­leged ties to ter­ror groups.

Those in jail in­clude some 150 jour­nal­ists and a dozen leg­is­la­tors from Turkey’s pro-Kur­dish party, which also op­poses the con­sti­tu­tional changes.

A de­cree is­sued un­der the emer­gency pow­ers has elim­i­nated the High Elec­toral Board’s ability to slap fines on TV sta­tions that don’t de­vote equal cam­paign time to op­pos­ing sides.

Dur­ing a visit to Ankara last month, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel called for elec­tion ob­servers to be al­lowed to mon­i­tor the vote. Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions have also ex­pressed con­cerns over the cam­paign process, in­clud­ing the re­stric­tions on the free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the right to as­sem­bly.

“If a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum must ab­so­lutely be held dur­ing a state of emer­gency, re­stric­tions on po­lit­i­cal free­doms have to be lifted,” the Venice Com­mis­sion, a le­gal ad­vi­sory body of the Stras­bourg, France-based Coun­cil of Europe, said in a re­cent re­port. “If the re­stric­tions may not be re­pealed, the con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum should be post­poned un­til after the state of emer­gency.”

In this March 15 photo, a Turk­ish man sup­port­ing the 'NO' vote for the up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum holds a Turk­ish flag and a plac­ard, read­ing in Turk­ish: 'No to un­em­ploy­ment' as he chants slo­gans in cen­tral Is­tan­bul. AP PHOTO

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