Turkish Voters Take to the Seas

For Foreign Affairs:

Istanbul — On a clear evening in Istanbul’s Besiktas district, a dozen police officers eyed hundreds of people as they packed a private ferry on the Bosphorus. The passengers were attending an event to mobilize support for a “no” vote on a constitutional referendum scheduled for April 16. Equally wary of the police and any potential pro-“yes” saboteurs, a pair of organizers patted down each passenger before allowing him or her aboard.

“It’s not going to be a fair vote, so we have to work hard to make people believe ‘no’ can win,” Yusuf Alp, a young leftist organizer, shouted above the cheers from the passengers as the ferry pulled off into the twilight. The organizers could not gain permission from the local government to use space on land, so they enlisted the help of a friend who owns the boat. After three hours of chanting, the passengers, their morale high, scooped up buttons and stickers with a simple “no” on them before heading home.

The latest polls by two of Turkey’s oldest firms, Metropoll and A&G, have shown that Turks are evenly split in the run-up to the referendum, with the difference between pro-government “yes” voters and “no” voters at less than five percent.  The “no” contingent is hoping not only to persuade longtime critics of the government to turn out, but also to connect to the undecideds, which some polls have put as high as 20 percent.

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