Turkey in final referendum push as jihadists detained

The referendum will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since last summer's failed coup which has seen some 47,000 arrested in the biggest crackdown in Turkey's history.

AFP| Updated: Apr 14, 2017, 17:32 PM IST
Turkey in final referendum push as jihadists detained

Istanbul: The opposing sides in Turkey's tightly-contested referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers made a last push for votes today as the arrest of five suspected jihadists fuelled security concerns.

Opinion polls - usually treated with caution in Turkey - have predicted a tight outcome on Sunday despite the considerable advantages of the 'Yes' campaign in both airtime and campaign resources.

The referendum will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since last summer's failed coup which has seen some 47,000 arrested in the biggest crackdown in Turkey's history.

Analysts regard the referendum as a turning point in the modern history of the country that will affect not just the shape of its political system but also its relations with the West.

If the new system is passed, it will abolish the office of prime minister, enabling the president to centralise all state bureaucracy under his control and also to appoint cabinet ministers.

Supporters see the new system as an essential modernisation step for Turkey to streamline government but opponents fear it risks granting Erdogan authoritarian powers.

Erdogan has raised hackles in the West throughout the campaign with his repeated denunciations of the European Union, which Turkey has sought to join for the last half century.

"April 16 will be an answer to the European Union," Erdogan said in a TV interview late on Thursday.

He expressed confidence that the new presidential system would be approved, saying there were no longer undecided voters. "'Yes' has gone up considerably, while 'No' has gone down," he said.

A poll by the Konda group showed 'Yes' ahead at 51.5 per cent but the Sonar group has projected a 'No' vote of 51.2 per cent, and with other polling companies producing different figures the outcome remains uncertain.

Erdogan will today speak in Konya, the Anatolian city seen as the heartland of conservative supporters who have benefited from his rule.

The leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu has called for a 'No' vote, arguing there was too much uncertainty over the consequences of the new system.

"We will altogether write a legend of democracy (on Sunday) because our questions have been left unanswered," he told reporters in Istanbul.

The referendum is taking place after a bloody year of terror attacks in Turkey blamed on jihadists and Kurdish militants.

Adding to security concerns, Turkish police today detained five suspected Islamic State jihadists in Istanbul accused of planning a "sensational" attack targeting the weekend referendum.