Constitutional referendum: Opposition spins out of control
With Turkey’s constitutional referendum just two days away, the “yes” campaign has adopted a visibly softer tone, whereas spokespeople for the “no” campaign have become more aggressive. A few weeks ago, the opponents of constitutional reform maintained that everything would be fine if the referendum were to fail. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear them compare a potential referendum victory to the historic triumph of Turkish troops over Greek invaders in 1922.
In recent weeks, the intellectual godfathers of the “no” campaign have been talking, at length, about the “voluntary mass mobilization” of opposition voters and saluting the birth of a “great democratic movement” in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been targeting the Turkish people’s peaceful resistance against coup plotters on July 15.
To be clear, there is no doubt that the main opposition party has adopted an extremely aggressive tone in the final days of the campaign with an eye on the referendum’s aftermath, rather than Sunday’s vote. Expecting the constitutional referendum to pass, it would appear that the CHP leadership wants to form an opposition front by making frequent references to the War of Independence, the defeat of Greek invaders and what they call the people’s civilian-democratizing force.
Of course, the main opposition’s current campaign is hardly original: They attempted the exact same thing during the Gezi Park protests and ahead of the June 2015 parliamentary elections. As a matter of fact, the 2007 Republican rallies were intended to accomplish the same goal.
Why, you might be wondering, does the main opposition party focus on the referendum’s aftermath rather than Sunday’s vote? Even if the referendum passes, Parliament will still have to pass a number of laws to facilitate the transition to a presidential system. More importantly, the transition won’t be complete until the 2019 parliamentary and presidential races.
As such, the CHP leadership wants to make sure that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won’t be able to get re-elected even if Turkey adopts a presidential system of government. Under the circumstances, it is possible to dismiss Kılıçdaroğlu’s aggressive statements as damage control ahead of another historic defeat. However, the CHP’s efforts to discredit the July 15 resistance in order to unite the opposition, is nothing short of a very dangerous gambit.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision to describe the Turkish people’s heroic resistance to coup plotters as a “controlled coup,” i.e. an inside job, coincides with increasingly hostile comments made by Western officials about last summer’s coup attempt.
In recent months, governments and individuals referring to the Turkish president as a dictator and targeting Turkey whenever the opportunity presents itself have been trying to cast a shadow on the July 15 resistance. The Turkish people remember perfectly well that Western intelligence agencies have been trying to whitewash Fetullah Gülen’s crimes by claiming that he played no role in the coup attempt. It is also important to recall that Kılıçdaroğlu himself had opposed the state of emergency by claiming that “the civilian coup started on July 20.”
As such, the “controlled coup” narrative represents a new level in the CHP’s assault against the July 15 resistance. Together with the director of the German intelligence agency BND, the main opposition leader has been trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Turkish people’s resistance and its significance in our political history.
Suggesting that the Turkish people’s first-ever successful attempt to thwart a coup attempt was nothing but “theatrics,” in Gülen’s words, inevitably undermines Turkey’s democracy and encourages future attacks against the country by those who have failed to break President Erdoğan’s bond with the Turkish people. If the CHP’s intellectual godfathers want to form a democratic opposition movement, Kılıçdaroğlu will have to change his tone without further delay. Otherwise, his efforts to discredit the July 15 resistance will be remembered as an assault on Turkey’s shared values and democratic experience.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on April 14, 2017.