Yesterday was the last day for 30,000 Turks living in the UK to vote for the controversial referendum, which will decide whether to replace the parliamentary government in Turkey with a presidential system that will boost President Erdogan’s powers even more. For 55 million constituents living in the country, the polling stations will open at 08:00 on the 16th of April.
Turkey is an important player in the global political arena as a country with one of the biggest armies in the NATO military alliance. It has strategic value in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and the immigration crisis in Europe so the results of the historic vote will have drastic effects in Turkey and abroad.
I am with Gulsum, a Turkish expat living in London, in front of the hotel hired by the Turkish Consulate in London for the purpose of voting, waiting for the queue in front of the main entrance to dwindle a little. Her family and neighbours are sat on the green patch right in front of the 4-star hotel in the middle of London, not minding the traffic rolling on the arterial A4 road in front of us.Loyal Erdogan supporters since he first came to power in 2004, Gulsum and her family are going to vote in favour of the proposal.
“The constitutional change will give great powers to President Erdogan. Aren’t you afraid that one day some other president will have the same power?” I ask. “I mean, it could be the leaders of other parties next.” She looks in the distance hesitantly for a second, then, “God willing, Erdogan will prevail,” she says.
A representative of one of the opposition parties whom I saw handing flyers in support of “no” in front of the tube station arrives on the scene, joining volunteers welcoming the voters at the entrance.She wishes everyone a good Sunday in Turkish, “Hayırlı pazarlar,” quite content with the subtle play on words she is pulling, as “Hayır” also means “No” in Turkish and what she says can also mean roughly, “Have a Sunday of No.”
I approach the private security guards hired especially for the voting in London by the Turkish Consulate and say I would like to speak with the party representatives present at the voting centre, and maybe with someone from the Turkish consulate. He is tensed instantly. He sends another guard to enquire if it is ok for me to interview them and when I start asking him questions, he says jokingly, “See, you already started poking around. That’s why I am allergic to journalists.”
In the end, I am told that I cannot speak with the representatives within the building but they can’t stop me if I want to catch up with them outside. I have a quick chat with journalist Akin Olgun, representing the Kurdish party, HDP, as an electoral observer. I find out that they stopped a Kurdish radio too from covering the referendum live in the building and he was moved to the hotel lobby in the building next door.
The whole scene is a microcosmic representation of the culturally diverse and politically divided country. Young girls are taking “referendum selfies” while families are sat on the sidewalks snacking on pumpkin seeds and children run around happily with balloons printed with Turkish flags. Buses hired for carrying Turkish citizens from all over England drop their passengers in front of the hotel, where every now and then, more well-off Turkish UK residents also arrive in expensive cars and stylish clothes, carrying themselves with a tangible sense of self-importance.
The merry hustle and bustle in front of the hotel bring to mind a saying Turkish people use a lot: “We are going to go down gloriously.”
image CC BY-SA 3.0