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Special Edition: Coverage of Turkey Constitutional Reform Referendum. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:19] BECKY ANDEROSN, HOST: A very good evening. And welcome to what is this very special edition of Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson.

Firing up on a Middle East weekend for you, because of just how important right here Turkey's capital Ankara is right now.

What happens in this country on Sunday just two days in now will touch on the lives of every single one of us.

Voters could turn this country that's so important in so many ways upside down by handing more power to this man, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

after holding countless rallies in this campaign just a few hours ago. He held his last one, a familiar speech and adoring crowd, all as you might


But look to the top right of your screen right now. You'll see where the rally was held. It was in the city of Konya, that's about 250-odd

kilometers away from the glitz and power of Ankara. Right now it's perhaps a far more important place, it's there and in countless other smaller towns

across Turkey that Mr. Erdogan's fate will really be written.

So I went along to see for myself.


ANDERSON: Witness a city waking up -- Ankara, a metropolis and Turkey's political nerve center.

Just like in the U.S. and the U.K. to really understand the political realities of a vast country like this, you've got to get out of the big

cities like Ankara and Istanbul and into the rural heartland which is why today I'm taking the train to the ancient city of Konya in Anatolia.

This high-speed rail service launched just a couple of years ago is a good example of Erdogan's landscape-changing infrastructure projects -- roads,

rail ways, airports, canals -- which help him shore up his base amongst Turkey's burgeoning middle class.

New transport links have not only made the country easier to navigate. They also serve a political purpose. Built over the last 15 years, they link

Turkey's major hubs to its once forgotten rural cities.

Erdogan's investments in infrastructure, super charging businesses whilst boosting his popularity in a city like Konya.

TAHIR AKYUREK, MAYOR OF KONYA (through translator): Konya is usually supportive of the AK Party and President Erdogan. That's why we're

preparing this beautiful gift for him ahead of his arrival.

ANDERSON: Tahir Akyurek is the mayor. He has come to check on preparations for the President's upcoming visit, a campaign rally just days before a

referendum that could consolidate even more power in Erdogan's hands.

AKYUREK: I was born in a small village just outside Konya. The city has seen enormous development over the past 15 years. Today it's a leader in

education, industry and agriculture. None of that would have been possible without the government's support.

ANDERSON: That's a view shared by Taha Buyukhelvacigil (ph). He's the fourth generation of a family-owned conglomerate that's reaped the benefits

of government support and investment over the past decade and a half.

TAHA BUYUKHELVACIGIL, ZADE VITAL: In the last ten years our workers will be the numbers of -- it will be 300 nowadays it will be 400 people that work

with us. And 50 percent (inaudible) R&D people. They will be working for just for R&D.

ANDERSON: And those R&D employees.


ANDERSON: As a result of the incentives that the government has provided --


ANDERSON: a business like yours to innovate, correct.

BUYUKHELVACIGIL: Yes. That's also why we need them.

ANDERSON: Taha's company once only produced food products but now it's become a leader in cutting edge pharmaceuticals. Businesses like his have

transformed Konya's economy from almost wholly agrarian to a center of industry.

But despite the progress, Konya remains a city rooted in its past. A past that comes to life in the court yard of the Sufi poet (inaudible) as a

troop of whirling dervishes perform their spiritual dance.

The swirling and spinning symbolizing some might say the many twists and turns of modern Turkish politics.


[11:05:01] ANDERSON: Well, if all of this is enough to make your head spin, let's break down

the no side for us. A top voice from Turkey's main opposition party. Utku Cakirozer is with me now. You said, quote, your - our democracy has been

lowered a great deal and needs to be raised rapidly.

Utku, ironically, that is exactly what Erdogan is arguing. To quote his spokesman in an op-ed on CNN digital, the constitutional reform bill

represents a step in the right direction, a more resilient democracy, a stronger economy and increased checks and balances with a clear separation

of powers.

You clearly don't agree. But the problem is, the opposition is patently failed to provide the electric - an alternative, haven't they?

UTKU CAKIROZER, CHP MEMBER: Actually, this is not correct. We have always recommended and proposed laws which would strengthen our democracy bar, but

it always failed because Mr. Erdogan has always dominated his party, AKP, to come with this presidential package and they never took into

consideration tens of proposals are there in the parliament in the shelves, in

which our party has given and we always make calls and are still making calls that we are ready for any constitutional reform which would indeed

strengthen parliamentary democracy.

ANDERSON: Because you do agree, I think, that Turkish style parliamentarian-ism has its issues, is to some extent dysfunctional,


CAKIROZER: Let's not say dysfunctional, but what we need is to talk more and to have more dialogue.

I mean, there has been also been but we need more dialogue, there's been also victorious days of coalition building in this country and many, many

important reforms has been done under weak coalition governments. Remember, late Mr. Recep's governments where we started reforms.

So, what we don't - what we need is more dialogue and consensus policy rather than just giving all the authority to one man as a single man


ANDERSON: Well, let's connect the Connect the World viewers, as it were, with what the leader of your party had to say and then right after the

president's response. Hold on.


KEMAL KILICDAROGLU, CHP LEADER (through translator): One man will decide how many ministers will be in the cabinet. One man will decide what their

duties will be. The parliament will be completely bypassed.

RECEP TAYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): What one man? What one man? Read those 18 articles. You'll see that's not the



ANDERSON: Effectively, if you listen to what was said there, you could argue that Mr. Erdogan isn't seizing power here. If people vote for him to

have more, that is democracy, nothing else.

CAKIROZER: I think...

ANDERSON: Effectively, this is a democratic process. People are being given the opportunity to vote yes or no. That is a working democracy, his

supporters would argue at least.

CAKIROZER: But I mean, I wish we all had a fair and balanced and equal campaigning, and we also wish - I mean, it's not only us, the opposition

parties and hundreds of civil society organizations, but also international organizations who are watching Turkey closely, they are all underling the

problem that we are experiencing all these referendums is under a state of emergency and more than 150 journalists are in prisons for months so it is

very -- it's a very right for us to question how fair and how to the right of being informed is really accessed in Turkey equally.

ANDERSON: You used to run a large and important newspaper here in Turkey. A few month back, in December, one well known writer group claimed that

Turkey had locked up more reporters than any other country in the world. At any single time, at least 81, some of your own colleagues were arrested

about a year ago.

What is the scope of this crackdown on the media here?

CAKIROZER: I mean, especially, I mean during the state of emergency, around 200 TV stations and radios and other media outlets have been closed,

dozens of our colleagues are jobless now and more than 150 journalists are in prison. I mean, the main reason for the government is the 15 of July

coup attempt, but on the other hand, most of those people, those colleagues are there just for expressing their views or writing a column or putting a


I mean, even there is a cartoonist inside now. As you know, Mr. (inaudible) and the very columnist like (inaudible).

[11:10:11] ANDERSON: You are making some very good points. Let's fast forward to Sunday night, 10:00 local time, when we get the result of this

referendum. It is just a yes or a no.

The only poll it seems worth quoting at present has the yes campaign at around 51.5 percent to no at 48.5 percent. So, this is - this is a poll on

a knife edge at this point. And I think both camps would concede that.

Should Mr. Erdogan win - because this is about one man at the end of the day, should he win on Sunday, but without a clear mandate, i.e. without 55

percent, 56 percent of the electorate, what will happen, because I guess what I'm trying to get to here is whatever the results, are we looking at a

Turkey which will be more or less stable going forward, more or less secure going forward?

CAKIROZER: I think a clear no would make all of us more safe and more in the road toward democracy and rule of law. I mean, a yes rest would mean

more instability and more isolation from the outer world, specifically from the European Union as you are following the latest reports coming for the

last weeks and months from European countries, but I do believe that it will be a clear no.

On the other hand, I mean speaking about polls, I mean, I would remind that people are afraid of expressing their views freely just because of the

state of emergency and because there is all these putting people in jail, thousands and - tens of thousands of people are in jails and more of them

are sacked from their jobs, kicked out of their positions in the public service. So people are afraid.

ANDERSON: So, what you're saying is don't believe the polls.

Well, I have got to say, I'm British and that was a problem during the Brexit campaign, as it was

during the U.S. election campaign, so I'm not sure that any of us should believe polls, but what I can say, is having spoken to both camps, it does

still seem as if this is an election on - or at least a vote on a knife edge.

It's been a pleasure talking to you, sir. Thank you.

CAKIROZER: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: More ahead from Turkey for you on our show tonight.

It was incredible to get to see this. Just ahead we'll tell you more about the meaning behind this ancient ritual.

And we'll update you on other stories making news around the world as you would expect. That is next. Taking this very short break, back after



[11:15:07] ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me Becky Anderson in an Ankara for you.d

Damage assess, underway now in northeastern Afghanistan after the U.S. dropped one of its

biggest nonnuclear bombs on an ISIS tunnel network there.

Afghan officials say the enormous blast killed 36 militants. But in an online statement, the terror group denies suffering any casualties.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan calls the operation a success.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the right weapon against the right target. I want to assure the people of Afghanistan that our forces take every

possible precaution to prevent civilian casualties.

We had persist surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation. And now we have Afghan and U.S. forces on the site and see no

evidence of civilians casualties, nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.


ANDERSON: Well, tension continues to increase amid speculation, North Korea will mark a national holiday this weekend by staging a nuclear

weapons test.

Its military is warning that any U.S. provocation will be met with what it calls a merciless response.

Well, the U.S. has beefed up its military presence near the Korean peninsula in recent days.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has registered to run for a second four- year term in the May election. Mr. Rouhani won the 2013 election by a landslide. He campaigned to Iran's isolationist foreign policy and

championed Iran's nuclear deal with the west.

Well, a few days ago, Iran's president spoke out against future U.S. strikes on Syria, saying that

attacking Syria again would be, quote, dangerous for the region.

Mr. Rouhani's position is closely in line with Russia and his foreign minister met with diplomats from Russia and Syria in Moscow today.

Russia's Sergey Lavrov says the three nations stand together.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We confirmed our position. It is a united position, and it consists of our condemnation

of the attack on a sovereign state and we demand that the United States should respect the sovereignty of a state and avoid such actions that

threaten the common world order.


ANDERSON: So, given that Turkey, just across the border, of course, from Syria, how does it fill in to all of this?

Well, Ben Wedeman joins me now from Antakia in Turkey near the Turkish- Syrian border - Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky. Well, it's a complicated situation, but it does seem that the Russian diplomats,

certainly Sergey Lavrov, are straddling both sides of this conflict.

Yes, today he met with the Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, they warned the

United States not to launch any more missile strikes on Syria. They said they want an international investigation into the incident on the Fourth of

April in Khan Sheikhoun, the suspected chemical attack that left as many as 89 people dead. But they want an investigation broadened to include other

experts from outside the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

They criticized the OPCW for not actually visiting the site yet.

Now, significantly, tomorrow Lavrov is going to be meeting with Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is the Qatari foreign minister. And last night, he spoke to

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that is Putin, Vladimir Putin spoke with Erdogan last night. They both supported an investigation by the OPCW,

but it's important to note that the Russians are talking to both sides, Turkey and Qatar, have supported the opposition, the armed opposition to

Bashar al-Assad, so the Rusians are speaking to both sides.

They may be a few steps ahead of the Americans in this diplomatic game - Becky.

ANDRESON: Well, put, Ben. Thank you for that.

Ben Wedeman on the border.

Still to come tonight, a vote for Turkey's future. I'm going to return to our coverage of Sunday's referendum and talk to an election monitor. Back

after this.



[11:20:51] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I haven't decided which one is the right choice. I am thinking. I'm doing my research, but

I haven't decided.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): country. I won't give up (inaudible).


ANDERSON: Well, some views there from the people on Ankara at least about this Sunday's referendum. Some have criticized the timing of this Sunday's

vote coming as it does less than a year after an attempted coup and while the country is still under a state of emergency. Well, that is why it's

important for the process to be transparent.

My next guest hopes to ensure just that through a grass roots network of volunteers. Serkan Celebi (ph) joins us now from Istanbul.

What you're doing effectively, it seems to me, is crowd source verification of the results, correct?

SERKAN CELEBI (ph), ELECTION VOLUNTEER: Yes, I think that's a great definition.

Hello, by the way, Becky. Greetings from Istanbul.

For the past three years we've been observing nationally the election through a grassroots organization, independent volunteers that are trained

in the electoral law irrespective of the outcome, so independent of their political views, we have gathered about 150,000 volunteers from across the

country to really safeguard two parts of the election process, the first one being what happens on election day, the voting and the counting

processes, and the second being what happens at the aggregation level, at the government software level in terms of the process that goes until the

official results have been published.

ANDERSON: Alongside the work that you are doing, I know that a small team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be on

hand to observe Sunday's referendum, Now, it released an interim report on process earlier this month, you'll have seen this, that expressed

concerns that the referendum would be free and fair, since it was taking place under a state of emergency. Observers also noting that supporters in

the no camp have faced intimidation, including campaign bans and violent clashes at their events.

Does what they published in report and do their findings reflect what you are hearing and seeing on the streets ahead of this.

CELEBI (ph): They have actually been around for the past four or five elections to the extent that I know. And they have always published very

similar observations.

What we have to be very clear about is that when we talk about elections, we talk about two different things. One of them is the fairness of the

elections, which is happens until election day. And then the second bit is what happens on election day, which is around the freeness of the


So, basically, the use of state resources, the freedom of media, freedom of expression of any sorts, that go into the fairness bits which my

organization is not necessarily involved in. Of course, we have our own observations, and you can certainly guess that there's a long way that we

can go on that end.

But as far as the election day itself is concerned, like with the freeness of elections is concerns, can people go out to vote, are the voting

processes observed and are they transparent? Is the counting process transparent? So far in the elections that we have observed, I think Turkey

has done a fairly good job. We have a long history of running these elections properly as they should be. And I think this one is going to be fairly similar.

ANDERSON: And you're making a very good point, because Turkey may have had and may have its problems at present. But election fraud in the past isn't

one of them.

So in the end, why do you think what you're doing - and by the way the thousands of volunteers that you are working with, why is it important?

CELEBI (ph): They're two aspects as far as I'm concerned. One of them is the direct bit

and the indirect bit. Directly what we're doing is especially in an election like this, in a referendum like this, where the yes and no results

are so close to one another, anything that can go wrong on election day, whether it's on purpose or not - let's say around discussions around valid

or invalid votes, or lets say discussions around can the elderly people vote on their own or are they accompanied by other people, these things

they appear to be minor, but at the bottom line they have a huge impact - they might have a huge impact on the outcome.

So what our grassroots organization volunteers, what they do - and this time through political parties, they participate in the processes, they

basically quote the laws and the regulations, and in short, that the election day itself is run in an unbiased fashion 100 percent in line with

the rules and the regulations.

What they do is whenever there's not a balance between the political parties representation, we step in as a civil - as an unbiassed civil

society organization to create that balance.

Now, the indirect impact of that is 150,000 people, active citizenship, grass roots movement in Turkey. You know, we don't really have that in our

culture that people get motivated, they get mobilized and they become part of the political processes. And., you know, for the past three years, so

far so good. This has been a great experience for the founders of the organization and I trust that has been a great experience for our

volunteers as well.

ANDERSON: And with that, we're going to leave it there. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

I never know what I'm going to say, well, not me, of course, I always know what to say. But

those are the words of the Persian poet Rumi, whose eternal prose now more than 800 years old still read and loved today. Penning his verses in four

languages, he wrote many in just one place: what is now modern-day Turkey, in Konya, in fact, where you saw my report from earlier. And where close

to his resting place, we showed you this: an amazing spectacle to behold, This is a Sama (ph) performance, the spiritual dance by the dervish in

their hometown where whirling around like planets around the sun they make dance a form or prayer. And those were your parting shots this evening.

I'm Becky Anderson, with what was a special edition of Connect the World live from Ankara. Thanks for watching. We'll see you over the weekend.