Away from campaign frenzy, Turkish students try to inform voters

Fulya OZERKAN
Turkey will vote on Sunday in a referendum that could expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers and shake up the consitution

Away from the bitter frenzy of Turkey's referendum campaign, volunteer law students are patrolling squares in Istanbul to explain what the planned changes to the constitution would bring.

In the historic Eminonu square where both 'Yes' and 'No' supporters are patrolling side by side, young university students approach passers by, simply asking them if they have a good understanding of the proposed new constitution.

"We are neither making propaganda for the 'Yes' vote nor for the 'No' vote," law school student Nur Ozdemir told AFP, referring to the referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

"We are on the side of the law and trying to explain people from legal perspective," she said.

The country will vote Sunday on whether to hand the head of state strengthened executive powers including appointing top public officials and assigning one or several vice presidents.

The changes would implement a shake-up in the judiciary, which Erdogan has accused of being influenced by supporters of his arch foe, the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

- 'Legal side not debated' -

This volunteer initiative by young law students, a stark contrast to the venom of the campaign, is aimed at informing voters for what they will be choosing by picking 'Yes' or 'No'.

Their argument is that the changes will not hand emboldened powers not only to Erdogan but to whoever will succeed him.

"We look and see that the constitutional text is not being debated at all in the context of the law," volunteer Umut said.

"All the discussions are taking place on the political platform. There's nobody who examines the changes article by article," he lamented.

Hesitant citizens are posing direct questions that concern their daily lives, said 22-year-old Tutku Sen.

"Most of the frequently asked questions by undecided voters is if terror (attacks) will come to an end, or if their economic problems would be solved," she told AFP.

- 'Koran says 'Read''-

Tugba Ozbet, wearing a black chador, asked her husband to wait as she took some time to listen to what the young students would tell her.

"I have my own views, they will not change but still I wanted to listen to what they will say," she told AFP.

"To be put it clearly, there's nothing objectionable in the constitutional package for us," she said.

"We want the presidential system not for Recep Tayyip Erdogan but for Turkey, for Turkey to be better."

Another passer-by, Osman Tas, briefly chatted with the students and praised the initiative.

"Even the Koran says 'Read,'" he said. "What those friends are doing is good. It's useless to hang flags everywhere and ruin the country. You obviously have to talk to people."

The young volunteer Sen, stuck between loud 'Yes' and 'No' campaign music, kept on telling people about the changes.

"This is not a general election or a party election. Everything is about a constitutional amendment that concerns our future," she said.