Turks will be casting their ballots this weekend to decide on vast constitutional changes granting near-dictatorial powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The final polls before the April 16 vote point to a victory for Erdogan and the Yes campaign, but one that’s probably much closer than he would like:
Latest #TurkishReferendum polls
Gezici: Yes: % 51.3 No: %48.7
Konda: Yes: %51.5 No: %48.5
Sonar: Yes: %48.8 No: %51.2
ANAR: Yes: %52 No: %48
— Yusuf Sarfati (@y_sarfati) April 14, 2017
Turkish polls are notoriously imperfect measures of how Turks actually vote, and these polls in particular leave something to be desired. The Gezici poll, for instance, involved face-to-face interviews of 1,399 households in just 10 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, leaving out not only huge swathes of people within Turkey but also the three million Turks eligible to vote from abroad. Political repression and lopsided campaigning will also give a built-in advantage to the Yes campaign at the ballot box that might not be reflected in polls.
Nonetheless, the polls do point to deep divisions within Turkey that have been brought to the fore by this referendum. Religious Kurds who have previously backed the AKP’s Islamist and Ottomanist agenda are one key constituency that Erdogan can’t afford to lose, while the wider Kurdish population makes up a large proportion of undecided voters. But some of the Yes campaigners’ messages to the Kurds may turn off nationalist voters. Devlet Bahçeli—the leader of the right-wing nationalist MHP and a key supporter of the Yes campaign—caused a last-minute stir on Thursday night when he seemed to suggest that the AKP might pursue a federalist state system after a Yes vote, something that would be anathema to MHP voters. This prompted immediate and strongly-worded denials from Erdogan and other AKP leaders.
With all the high drama this week over Syrian chemical weapons, MOABs in Afghanistan, and carrier strike groups steaming towards the Sea of Japan, the Turkish referendum has been pushed off center stage. But these divisions within Turkish society will play a critical role, one way or another, in deciding the future of Ataturk’s republic—with important consequences reverberating far beyond its borders.