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‘Yes’ Vote Takes Narrow Lead ahead of Sunday’s Turkish Referendum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People walk under Turkish flags outside an Evet (Yes) campaign tent in the main square on April 11, 2017 in Sivas, Turkey. (Getty Images)

Ankara – The narrow majority of Turks will vote in favor of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referendum, which is scheduled for Sunday, two opinion polls showed on Thursday.

Erdogan is seeking a referendum on changing the constitution to grant the president sweeping new powers.

The April 16 vote will decide on the biggest change in Turkey’s system of governance since the modern republic’s foundation almost a century ago, potentially replacing its parliamentary system with an executive presidency.

Polling company Konda said the number of “yes” voters stood at 51.5 percent, but said its survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percent.

“When this forecast is considered within the survey’s margin of error, a final judgement might be misleading,” Konda said in a statement.

Its survey, carried out face-to-face with 3,462 people in 30 provinces on April 7-9, showed turnout for the vote would be around 90 percent. It said the level of undecided voters had fallen to 9 percent from more than 20 percent in January and there was no evidence to indicate their preference.

The survey by pollster Gezici put support for the constitutional change at 51.3 percent, with “no” votes at 48.7 percent after the distribution of undecided voters.

The poll was carried out face-to-face with some 1,400 people in 10 provinces on April 8-9. In its previous survey a week earlier it put the “yes” vote at 53.3 percent.

Much like the vast mosque he has commissioned atop one of Istanbul’s highest hills, Erdogan’s supporters hope the referendum will be a crowning achievement in his drive to reshape Turkey.

The vote may bring the biggest change in their system of governance since the modern Turkish republic was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire almost a century ago. The outcome will have repercussions beyond Turkish shores.

Never in recent times has Turkey, one of only two Muslim members of the NATO military alliance, been so central to world affairs, from the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, to Europe’s migrant crisis and Ankara’s shifting allegiances with Moscow and Washington.

The campaign has split the country of 80 million down the middle, its divisions spilling over to the large Turkish diaspora in Europe. Erdogan has accused European leaders of acting like Nazis for banning rallies on security grounds, while his opponents overseas say they have been spied on.

Erdogan’s fervent supporters see his drive for greater powers as the just reward for a leader who has put Islamist values back at the core of public life, championed the pious working classes and delivered airports, hospitals and schools.

“Within the past 15 years he has achieved everything once considered impossible, unthinkable for Turks, be it bridges, undersea tunnels, roads, airports,” said Ergin Kulunk, 65, a civil engineer who heads an Istanbul mosque association that is financing the new mosque on the city’s Camlica Hill.

“The biggest quality of the Chief is that he touches people. I saw him at a recent gathering literally shaking almost 1,000 hands. He’s not doing that for politics. It comes from the heart,” he said, as Erdogan’s voice boomed from a television in the corner, broadcasting one of his daily campaign rallies.

In Kulunk’s office on Camlica Hill, once a hunting ground for the Ottoman well-to-do and now a popular viewing point, a signed picture of Erdogan hung on the wall next to portraits of Ataturk and Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid.

Erdogan assumed the presidency, then a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister, and has since continued to dominate politics by force of personality, making no secret of his ambition for greater powers.

He has ridden a wave of patriotism since an abortive coup in July, casting Turkey as at peril from a cocktail of outside forces and in need of strong leadership to see off threats from ISIS, Kurdish militants, the enemies within who tried to oust him and their foreign backers.