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Uncertainty cast in referendum campaign by founders of AKP

By Leyla Amur

Prominent AKP figures who have not participated in campaigns surrounding Turkey’s upcoming constitutional referendum leave a question in voters’ minds.

The referendum, which will be held on Sunday, will decide on 18 proposed changes to the constitution, the most significant of which could alter Turkey’s political landscape, shifting it from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. If the referendum results in a ‘yes’ vote, this would legally endow President Erdoğan with a further consolidation of executive powers.

Even though 4,113 minutes of airtime has been given to the incumbent incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) as of the end of March – compared to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) getting 216 and Kurdish-supporting People’s Democratic Party (HDP) receiving a mere minute – some of the founders of the AKP have yet to voice their opinions on the referendum.

Abdullah Gül, former president serving seven years, has been silent on the matter, an issue that caused some controversy among “yes” supporters. Gül declined to speak in his hometown of Kayseri at a rally scheduled for the beginning of April, an event that Erdoğan was also set to attend, on ground that he simply did not want to participate in the referendum’s campaign.

Unlike Gül, former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke at a “yes” rally meeting held in his hometown of Konya yesterday, however he failed to announce which way he will be voting on Sunday. In May 2016, Davutoğlu resigned from his post as prime minister after 20 months in office following escalating tensions at the time with the President, which observers say was largely due to Davutoğlu’s refusal to kowtow to Erdoğan’s ambition of strengthening the role of presidency. Both Gül and Davutoğlu also refused to participate AKP’s campaign launching campaign.

Another figure who has been vague in his responses is Bülent Arinç, former deputy prime minister. Arınç, along with Gül and Erdogan is known to be third leading actor of AKP. After a high-level meeting of former ministers – in which both Gül and Davutoğlu declined their invites – Arinç responded to questions regarding the referendum by saying “we’ll meet after the 17th (a day after the vote).” Arınç has been criticized by some of hawkish pro-AKP columnists, talking-heads and others for not supporting Erdogan enough for his ambitions.

A lack of distinct opinion blurs the campaign’s clearly drawn “yes,” “no” lines, fueling speculation in numerous newspapers in Turkey over how each will vote come election day. Shortly after Gül refused to speak at the rally, long time close confidant of Gül, conservative veteran columnist Fehmi Koru, in a recent column conveyed which way the former president going to vote: it will be ‘no.’ It is unthinkable for Koru to write such a column on behalf of Gül without his knowledge. Koru said ‘whoever wants to know how Gül is going to vote, should look his statements during his tenure as president.’

Speaking in 2015 while still President Gül said the following:

“It should not be a Turkish-style presidential system. If we are to have a presidential system, then it needs to be like the one in the US where the separation of powers is clearly defined, everything is clearly written and described.”

If the founders of the AKP –  who have had such clout in shaping the current state of Turkish affairs – do not feel free to express their opinions, then who can?

This uncertainty could possibly be a taste of what’s in store for Turkey should the “yes” vote come to pass.

Yalcinbayir: Gul and Davutoglu are silent as they are concerned about their relatives’ safety

One of AKP’s founders and former MP Ertugrul Yalcinbayir commented in late March that the reason both Gül, Davutoğlu and Arınç are silent as they are concerned about their relatives’ safety: “both Gül and Arınç are scared that their family members or close friends might get harmed.”

Neither Arınç, nor Gül ever deny this claim which came from a former heavyweight of AKP.

Apart from these leading AKP figures, other heavyweights like former Deputy Prime Minister for Economy and one term Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, AKP former spokesperson and former Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik, AKP’s former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and many more.

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