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  World   Europe  30 Jan 2017  Social media battlelines drawn ahead of Turkish vote

Social media battlelines drawn ahead of Turkish vote

Published : Jan 30, 2017, 6:26 am IST
Updated : Jan 30, 2017, 7:06 am IST

Opponents fear a lurch towards authoritarianism if an April referendum approves the change.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: AFP)
 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: AFP)

Ankara/Istanbul: Campaigning has not officially started, but a string of video “selfies” by the likes of sports stars, actors and Cabinet ministers has already launched a divisive debate on plans that would hand Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

His supporters see the move to replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency as a guarantee of stability at a time of turmoil. Opponents fear a lurch towards authoritarianism if an April referendum approves the change.

In a country where mainstream news channels are saturated by Mr Erdogan’s appearances and speeches by government ministers, and where political demonstrations are tightly restricted, the battle for votes is increasingly being waged online.

“Unfortunately the ‘No’ supporters don’t have much opportunity to get their message across on television channels or other media,” said actor Baris Atay, who was castigated by pro-government newspapers for a social media video in which he says “no to one-man rule, fascism and dictatorship”.

“Saying ‘Yes’, siding with Mr Erdogan, and being a nationalist is thinking of the country’s future, but saying ‘No’ is being a provocateur, a traitor and a terrorist - this is the perception they’re trying to establish,” he said. Mr Atay’s video was re-tweeted 23,000 times.

Against a backdrop of bombings by Islamic State and Kurdish militants, a failed coup last July, and the sharpest economic slowdown in almost a decade, Mr Erdogan has cast Turkey as under attack and in need of stronger leadership.

The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency, appoint ministers and senior officials and dissolve parliament powers that the two opposition parties say strip away balances to Mr Erdogan’s power. His supporters dismiss such claims and see the issue as a test of patriotism.

“Our homeland, our country is passing through a very  tough period. A veritable war of independence. We want a strong Turkey.

For a strong Turkey, yes, I am in,” Ridvan Dilmen, the country’s best-known soccer pundit, said in a video message on Twitter, triggering a chain of celebrity reactions.

“Coach Ridvan, I got your call. I’m in for a strong Turkey too,” said soccer star Arda Turan, who plays for Barcelona, in a similar post, drawing 10,000 re-tweets in the soccer-mad nation.

Mr Erdogan assumed the presidency, a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister with the ruling AK Party, which he co-founded.

Since then, pushing his powers to the limit, he has dominated politics by dint of his personal popularity. Opponents accuse him of increasing authoritarianism with the arrests and dismissal of tens of thousands of judges, police officers, soldiers, journalists and academics since the failed coup.

Mr Erdogan is expected in the coming days to officially approve the constitutional reform bill passed by parliament this month that will pave the way for the referendum, likely to be held on one of the first two Sundays in April.

Tags: social media, tayyip erdogan, dictatorship