Crunch time: Turkey’s referendum campaign begins

Crunch time: Turkey’s referendum campaign begins

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most powerful Turkish president since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established the country in 1923. On

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most powerful Turkish president since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established the country in 1923. On Saturday, he kicks off a campaign for a referendum that seeks to replace the country’s parliamentary democracy with a presidential system. If accepted, it could well see Mr Erdogan gain dictatorial powers equal to those of his political ancestor.

Erdogan’s popularity is in large part explained by the economic upswing the country has enjoyed during his reign. More recently, however, Turkey has been experiencing severe economic hiccups: the lira is tumbling, tourism revenues are sharply declining, and the country’s bond ratings range between high risk and junk.

Amidst these problems, an evet – Turkish for yes – is far from certain. Despite the government’s control over large parts of the media and its increasing crackdown on the opposition, a recent poll suggested 58% of Turks would reject the referendum.

Leading AKP politicians, including Erdogan himself, are becoming increasingly nervous about April’s vote; they’ll use Saturday’s glitzy rally in Ankara to reinvigorate supporters.