04/15/2017, 12.27
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Turkey divided over tomorrow's referendum

by Luca Galantini

Erdogan wants to become the new "Caesar" and make his country leader of the Middle East. Emphasis on nationalism and organized "terror" with the control of the media and society. Doubts within the AKP itself. The resistance of the Kurdish minority and the Kemalist party. 

Milan (AsiaNews) - On April 16 the Turkish people are called to the polls to vote on a crucial referendum not only for the political future of Turkey but even more so for the stability of the entire Middle East region.

With the constitutional reform developed in recent months, the President Recep Tayyep Erdogan seeks to fulfill a dream pursued for years in his political strategy, that is, turn Turkey into an autocracy with strong nationalist religious connotation, finally breaking down the secular democratic model of Western stamp wanted by Kemal Ataturk after the First World War.

However, Erdogan’s imperious desire r to become the new "Caesar" and make Turkey a "global player" in the Middle East to date has run into numerous obstacles, from the redefinition of the alliance with the West and NATO, to a contorted relationship with Russia and Iran, the contradictory relationship with the fundamentalist movements and terrorist Islamic clerics in the affair Syria. Not to forget the continuing and increasingly bloody internal issue of the Kurdish minority and its aspiration to independence in the context of unification with other Kurdish populations located in Iraq and Iran.

All these enormous foreign and domestic policy problems weigh like boulders on the outcome of the referendum, which Erdogan is playing at high-stakes: It is no accident, on the back of the now almost permanent state of emergency, imposed in the aftermath of the failed coup State of July, the authoritarian government of the Turkish President holds almost total control of the media, having eliminated by the media's voice despite a strong dissenting minority.

In fact, authoritative voices of analysts and scholars inside the country denounce a climate of intimidation and fear in civil society that underlies a great uncertainty about Erdogan’s victory. Both the majority in the government and the opposition must come to terms with a very jagged and uneven domestic situation, in which the various political alliances are often at odds with each other.

At the parliamentary level the party of the Turkish President, the AKP, has the majority of votes in Parliament, and has to count on a coalition that has been divided by the issue of constitutional reform. The nationalist MHP party that supports the Erdogan government has split the vote in favor of the reform, and this is worrying as the Turkish leader to fulfill his dream in recent years has given more force to the nationalist aspirations of this movement by stepping up an already strong repression of the Kurdish minority .

Even more so the "Kurdish factor" will be just as crucial to prevent the Turkish president reaching a quorum: Consider that the Kurds are nearly 20% of the Turkish population, and data provided by UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for human rights, denounced between 2016 and 2017 an upsurge of persecution of Kurds, counting almost 1,500 confirmed victims of government repression against members of the PKK, the Kurdish workers party and the minority members.

The Kurdish minority has long been exacerbated by the marginalization and economic, political, cultural, discrimination by the central government in Ankara, and the provinces of southeastern Turkey are in open revolt against President Erdogan. The criminalization of the minority particularly intensified after the failed coup, leading to incarceration without any judicial guarantee, of thousands of sympathizers even the moderate pro-Kurdish HDP party, of a democratic and pluralistic vocation, far from separatist PKK strategies: data provided by the International Crisis Group quantify at least 8000 arrests of members HDP operated by the police since last year.

The traditional Republican People's Party, CHP, of Kemalist inspiration - which for years embodied the true line of traditional democratic secular orthodoxy in the wake of Kemal Ataturk - reaffirms its strong opposition to constitutional reform desired by Erdogan, but at the same time after the failed coup and the imperious call of the Turkish President to the defense of the homeland security, it finds it difficult to justify to the electorate the opposition to the authoritarian process of Erdogan and a collaboration with the HDP.

The project to Erdogan's political opposition are therefore fragmented, but the whole Turkish civil society also suffers from a strong disorientation and fear generated after the failed coup of July: launching of emergency legislation - though initially given a legitimate justification - has gradually led to an authoritarian legislation which has achieved the objective of dismantling the network of the Fetullah Guelen cultural movement, Erdogan's arch enemy, yet brutally terrorized large sections of the middle class, public administration, armed forces, university academics and teachers, NGOs and professionals such as lawyers. It all happened through summary trials, purging, dismissal, restrictions on civil and political rights, widespread control of the media and the social media: fear of persecution leads many teachers to refrain from using facebook.

The grip of the culture of suspicion and the iron control imposed on the fundamental freedoms of civil society by Erdogan are factors that most likely will have a decisive effect in the voting event on the referendum, like the foreign policy issues on which Erdogan seems willing to play his prestige as a leader of international stature: the attempt by the President to stand as the defender of the homeland and national security will have to contend with the strong aspiration of Turkish society to recall a climate of harmonious daily life lived together in the sign of peace and basic civil liberties after a year of "institutionalized" terror.

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