By Charlie Kimber
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Will referendum backfire for the Tories’ friend in Turkey?

This article is over 7 years, 2 months old
Issue 2547
Turkish expats in Germany protest against Erdogans plans. Hayir means no in Turkish
Turkish expats in Germany protest against Erdogan’s plans. “Hayir” means “no” in Turkish (Pic: Flickr/Majka Czapski)

A repressive government is holding a biased referendum to increase its powers to silence opposition further—and the Tories are backing them all the way.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson flew to Turkey last weekend to boost trade and arms deals with its ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He arrived just after a House of Commons committee had accused Erdogan of using an attempted coup last year to purge opponents and suppress human rights. None of this bothered Johnson.

He lauded previous British arms sales to Turkey and was able to assure his hosts that Erdogan’s government continues to be “an essential counter-terrorism partner”.

“And our close co-operation includes extensive British efforts to tackle the threat from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism”, he added.

Erdogan is a staunch opponent of workers’ rights and freedom for the Kurdish minority. But, from our rulers’ perspective, Turkey is a member of Nato and has generally supported Western interests in the region.

It blocks hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from moving to Europe, in return for £2.5 billion in aid from the European Union (EU).

Erdogan, who does have a real popular base among sections of people, unleashed terror against his opponents after a failed coup last July.

He has ordered the sacking and jailing of huge swathes of people—many of whom did not back the coup.

Amnesty International launched a campaign this week pointing out that Turkey jails more journalists than any other country. There were 160 media outlets closed in the last year and more than 120 journalists are in prison.

More than 4,000 academics have been driven from their positions in the last nine months.

Almost 400 were removed because they had signed a petition condemning the state’s militaristic policies in Kurdish areas and calling for a return to negotiations.

The repression is worsening in the run-up to a crucial referendum scheduled for 16 April on a new constitution.


If there is a Yes vote it will clear the way for Erdogan’s one-man rule. The role of prime minister would be scrapped and the president would become the head of the government, as well as the head of state.

The president would be able to appoint all ministers, prepare the budget, choose most senior judges and enact laws by decree.

It would be a legal dictatorship. But Erdogan is not certain to win. The power grab is so extensive that forces he thought he could rely on are wary of the move.

The far right MHP party, which supported Erdogan’s plans in parliament, has now split—with rival sides holding a mass brawl last weekend.

Opinion polls are neck and neck. Most show a slight lead for No even though many people are wary of revealing their preference.

Even large numbers of those who support Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) say they might vote No. Turks who live in Europe have already started voting, with many indicating they have voted No.

Fearing they might lose the vote, Erdogan’s supporters have unleashed a furious campaign to intimidate and demonise No voters.

Dissident voices face the threat of jail and the media is virtually all pro-Yes. Breakfast TV presenter Irfan Degirmenci told his 1.6 million Twitter followers he would vote No. Little more than 24 hours later, he was sacked.

But the No campaign has held up, prompting speculation that Erdogan could even call off the vote.

Activists in Britain and across the world should back the forces fighting Erdogan and the No campaign. And our own government has blood on its hands for its shameful support for Erdogan and its ban here on the PKK.

Last year the TUC congress passed a motion to “step up solidarity activities with all progressive forces in Turkey and in particular with the opposition trade union movement and Kurdish population”. It’s time to turn that into reality.

For details of solidarity activities go to SPOT (Solidarity with the People of Turkey) on Facebook


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