Reportage. As Turks vote on whether to give broad powers to the president, half a million people are displaced from their homes by war and opposition voices are barred from air time.

Amid chaos and obstruction, Turkey heads to the polls

On the eve of the opening of the polling stations throughout Turkey for the constitutional referendum, the polls indicate a tight head to head between the two sides, just a few percentage points separate them.

This referendum is to vote on the constitution approved by Parliament last January. Not enough MPs voted in favor of this reform for direct approval, but there were enough to convene the polls and thus, pass the decision to the people. If passed, Turkey will assume a centralized presidential form, which has raised concerns about the holding of democratic institutions in the country.

With this reform, the president of the republic assumes the executive power and extends his hands to the legislative and judicial powers: He will be able to rule by decree, choose ministers and appoint the top officials of the state bureaucracy. He will also abandon the non-partisan role and will maintain membership and leadership of his party. Furthermore, he will elect both the majority of the constitutional court, which may be convened to judge him, as well as the members of the Supreme Judicial Council which distributes judges and prosecutors in the country. Last but not least, he will also be in command of the armed forces.

The Parliament will keep some prerogatives. But since the president will also enjoy the power to dissolve the Parliament, how much dialectic and how much subordination can be expected, with this sword of Damocles hovering over their heads?

The proponents of the reform invoke the benefits by relying on the need for a strong Turkey, ruled by a strong man and a strong party. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to fulfill his personal political dream and that of at least three generations of Islamic political militancy.

If the referendum passes, the new Turkey will be based on a relationship without intermediaries between the leader and his people, but not all the people are with him, because those who do not accept and share this bond, have no country.

These people will be marginalized, as is happening to the decadent old elite, locked up in clubs and villas admiring its own decline. Or they will be wiped out, as the Kurdish opposition, as old friends and allies now considered traitors, as those who fight and have to choose between prison or exile.

Such a historically significant change will be voted in a red-hot and traumatized social climate: the war in many southeast regions with a Kurdish majority; the painful State operation to eradicate an inconvenient former ally, Imam Gülen; a state of emergency which annulled the legal certainty and gave space to the arbitrariness and abuse of power by those who obey, either in genuine fear or with a desire to comply.

The AK Party bases its campaign on their organizational capacity, through its neighborhood organizations and its mobilization from below, as well as on a wide availability of funds, thanks to the economic ties with a rampant middle class that grew in symbiosis with the party leader of government for the last fifteen years.

Meanwhile there is obstruction of the opposition, starting from the inside. Very few “No” are heard within the Akp, Erdogan’s opponents prefer to hide behind a silent marginalization. If the “Yes” wins, they probably will pay their lack of militancy next to the leader, but not as much as if they had taken an explicit stance.

The “No” is blocked out of the advertising space, in the TV channels dominated by “Evet” (Yes in Turkish), where the timid appearance of two HDP members last Tuesday on the state channel TRT1 is seen as an inexplicable exception, or perhaps a mild attempt at apparent pluralism.

There’s also obstruction in the chaos: At least 500,000 have been displaced in the southeast, among destroyed neighborhoods where the polling stations are constantly moved, one must legitimately ask how bombs and ballot boxes can coexist.

And also in the tens of thousands purged languishing in prison or dying there, labeled as enemies of the state. It is unlikely they will be allowed to vote.

The Sunday referendum takes place under the worst possible conditions, yet the people of Turkey are called to give an answer: evet or hayir.

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