Turkey referendum ‘neck-and-neck’: pollster

General Director of KONDA, Bekir Agirdir

Ahead of the 16 April referendum on constitutional reform, which proposes an executive presidency to be installed in place of the current prime ministerial system, the General Director of polling company KONDA, Bekir Agirdir, said that the race is extremely close with undecided voters likely to settle the outcome.

Speaking to Hurriyet Daily News, Agirdir described the current atmosphere in the run-up to the referendum:

“Firstly, [in the past two years] we have had four elections based on identity politics, with identities confined to four political parties. Secondly, there is a hardening polarisation based on being pro or anti-AKP. Thirdly, there has been a consolidation in the four parties; the chance of another party making its weight felt does not look possible. And fourthly, there is a lack of political rivalry, as there is no second party that could challenge the AKP.

“When it comes to the referendum, a significant segment of society lacks information and interest. And they are right, as this referendum has not come about due to society’s demands. People are not talking about it – not because they are ignorant but because it does not touch their daily lives. That’s why people have not been so enthusiastic from the beginning. The AKP has seen this problem and therefore has based its campaign not on the substance of the changes but rather on polarization.

“There is no hesitation in the “no” camp, where you have the voters of the [main opposition Republican People’s Party] CHP and [the Peoples’ Democratic Party] HDP. The majority of the undecided are among the constituency of the ruling AKP and the [Nationalist Movement Party] MHP: One fifth of the AKP voters remain unconvinced of the changes. A quarter of the MHP’s voters are undecided and more than half of the MHP’s voters are in the “no” camp.

“If “yes” is to win, it will not depend on the “no” vote getting smaller or “no” voters not going to the ballot box, it will depend on whether the ruling party and the president are able to succeed in persuading their supporters. Currently, what we see in the campaign is basically the propaganda of the ruling AKP. The result will be “yes” if this campaign to convince succeeds.”

Analysing the country’s Kurdish population’s tendencies and voting patterns, Agirdir says that a significant majority of Kurds will vote against the government.

“You can traditionally divide Kurdish votes into those who are for or against the system or the dominant power. It’s roughly a 50-50 divide. You can also divide Kurdish voters in two in terms of whether they are religiously conservative or more secular. That’s also around 50-50.

“Until 2010/2011, the AKP got around 60 percent of Kurdish votes, while the HDP’s precursors got around 35 or 40 percent. Then the events surrounding the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane in 2014 strengthened Kurdish identity. This is a deep change. Those voting for the HDP did not give up their conservatism or get less pious. They still criticized the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK, but they are not going to give up on their Kurdish identity. I expect around 70 percent of Kurdish votes to be for the “no” camp and around 30 percent for the “yes” camp.”

To a question on what would be the outcome if both camps could campaign freely, Agirdir said:

“If there were equal conditions and if the debate was focused on the substance of the changes, the “no” votes would be ahead of the “yes” votes. Half of the public is not convinced that the change in the system will solve the country’s problems. The AKP has seen this, which is why it is basing its campaign on a polarisation axis.”

On what will happen the day after the referendum, the general director of KONDA concluded by saying:

“Around 48 to 49 million valid votes will be cast, with a division of around 23 million to 25 million. The rational mind says that you cannot do something if 23 million is against it. But when you look at the rhetoric of the dominant political actors, the government will go ahead even without taking into consideration what the other 23 million thinks. On the other hand, if there are 25 million “no” votes, that camp will celebrate without taking into consideration why the other 23 million voted “yes.” This is not sustainable, but polarization and tension will continue.”