Erdogan Faces Close Call in Referendum as Kurds Hold Control in Swing Vote

Erdogan, who won record majorities in his past two parliamentary elections, is seeking support for constitutional amendments in a Sept. 12 referendum. Most polls show the contest is too close to call. The votes of Kurds — who welcomed Erdogan’s promises of wider rights and an end to a 26-year war against separatist militants, and then criticized him for not delivering — may swing the result.

The changes include giving political leaders more influence over courts and allowing the civil trial of army officers, who are blamed by Kurds for civilian deaths in the war and for abuses after a 1980 military coup. Rejection would weaken a government that has presided over economic growth of 5 percent a year since 2003 and must run for re-election by July.

“There’s absolutely nothing directly benefitting Kurds in this package, but today’s judiciary system and military are enemies of the Kurds,” said Ozer Sencar, head of MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research in Ankara. “Those who were tortured or suffered from the 1980 coup, they want revenge, because soldiers did this to them.”

A nationwide poll last month by research company A&G found 45 percent planning to vote “yes” and 44 percent “no,” with 11 percent undecided, according to an Aksam newspaper report on Sept. 1 that didn’t cite a margin of error. The study surveyed 2,405 people.

Victory may signal that Erdogan is still seen as the best hope for stability and democratization, even by Kurds who aren’t happy with his record.

Kurdish Dead

As many as 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have died and as many as 1 million have been driven from their homes since 1984 in the war between Turkey’s army and the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. It is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union. Kurds make up as much as one-fifth of Turkey’s 73-million population.

Successive governments enforced harsh restrictions against speaking the Kurdish language. Amnesty International criticized Turkey in June for prosecuting thousands of young people, mostly Kurds, under anti-terror legislation after they took part in demonstrations. The next month, Erdogan’s government pushed through a law to prevent the prosecution of minors.

The constitution vote is complicated for Kurds by a boycott call from the leading Kurdish political party.

The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, demands a wholesale revision of the constitution and objects to not having been consulted on the proposed changes. It also blames Erdogan’s government for backpedaling on promises to widen Kurdish rights such as broadcasting and teaching in their native language, and to seek a peaceful end to the Kurdish war…

Benjamin Harvey


Sep 6, 2010

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