Istanbul (AFP) – Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan and other Turkish football stars on Wednesday backed a campaign pushing for a “Yes” vote in the referendum on giving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greater powers.
Turan and his fellow former Galatasaray star Burak Yilmaz, who now plays for Beijing Guoan, joined a social media campaign started by Turkish football legend Ridvan Dilmen for voters to back the idea.
A referendum on the plan for the presidential system is expected in the first half of April after parliament gave its green light to the bill.
“The fatherland has been going through a very hard time, like a war of independence,” Dilmen, a standout performer with Fenerbahce in the 80s and 90s, said in a video.
“We want a strong Turkey. I am also in for ‘Yes’ to a strong Turkey. Dear Arda, are you also in?” said Dilmen, now Turkey’s best known TV football pundit.
In the second video in the chain, Arda responded: “I have heeded the call from Ridvan. I am also in for a strong Turkey. Burak Yilmaz, my brother, are you also in?”
The Beijing-based footballer issued a similar message of support, passing the chain to the well-known Turkish pop singer Murat Boz.
Arda Turan and other Turkish football stars have been vocal supporters of Erdogan throughout his rule as premier from 2003-2014 and then president.
Erdogan won thumping support from Turan in the wake of the failed July 15 coup aimed at ousting him from power, with the football superstar appearing at rallies in his support.
– ‘Resist the devil’ –
The referendum on the new constitution to create a presidential system is seen as a crossroads in modern Turkish history.
Critics of Erdogan fear it will create one-man rule and pave the way for a Central Asia-style dictatorship in the country.
But Turkish officials say the changes are needed to make government more efficient and will give Turkey a system similar to the United States.
Turkey’s leaders have expressed confidence of winning a majority in the referendum but some commentators have predicted a tight outcome preceded by a no-holds-barred campaign.
In apparent response to the Dilmen social media video campaign, prominent Turkish figures who oppose the presidential system took to Twitter to promote the hashtag #Hayir (No).
“Let’s say ‘No’ in our best Turkish and with our best words. Have a great day!” wrote the prominent novelist Ahmet Umit.
Actress Meltem Cumbul tweeted: “Let’s say ‘No’ for the sake of a bright Turkey.”
Playing on the sharp-footed Dilmen’s playing days nickname of Seytan (the Devil), the hashtag #SeytanaUymaHAYIRDe (don’t yield to the Devil) became a top trend on Twitter.
Actor Baris Atay, a known longtime critic of Erdogan, issued a similar video to Turan but with the opposite message.
“Ridvan, Arda, we got your message…. But we say ‘No’. We are against one-man rule and dictatorship,” he said, standing in front of a poster of Marlon Brando in the “Godfather”.
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