With less than a month to go before Turkey’s April 16 referendum, the democratic and free climate this fateful vote requires is nowhere to be seen. The country is engulfed in a toxic campaign teeming with autocratic displays of populist nationalism aimed at boosting support for constitutional changes designed to hand sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the words of veteran Hurriyet columnist Taha Akyol, “The government’s propaganda machine is working full throttle in a formidable ‘yes’ campaign, using also the powers of the state. … We see on a daily basis how the ‘yes’ vote is promoted through state power and how the same state power is used to suppress the ‘no’ vote.”
The most striking example in this regard is perhaps the “no” campaign of former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, whose appeal to nationalist and conservative voters makes her a serious threat in government eyes. Aksener’s public events face regular disruptions through a variety of means, ranging from power cuts at campaign venues to rally bans and physical attacks.