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Turkish hairdressers and cabbies predict outcome of referendum

The referendum could expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2017

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As the landmark poll looms, analysts say the result is too close to call. In the hair salons and taxi ranks of Turkey, however, the vote is all but decided.

The bitterly contested campaign to sway voters in Turkey's referendum comes to an end on Saturday. As the landmark poll looms on Sunday, the 'Yes' and 'No' camps packed in a series of last minute rallies to influence voters at the ballot box.

If passed, the referendum would implement the most radical shake-up of Turkish politics since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, centralising the entire executive bureaucracy under Erdogan's presidency.

Despite the 'Yes' campaign having monopolised media coverage, the result is seen by analysts as too close to call.

In the hair salons and taxi ranks of Turkey, however, the vote is all but decided. The Daily Sabah, a pro-government paper, recently hit the streets to gauge public sentiment.

"The outcome will be overwhelmingly yes," Ali, a taxi driver in Istanbul, said. "I say it will be around 60 to 65 percent," Davut, another taxi driver turned savant, predicted.

The head of Istanbul's Chamber of Artisan Taxi Drivers confirmed these observations and opinions, absorbed from daily interactions by the city's street sages. "We hold meetings in Istanbul's districts as taxi drivers and discuss the latest developments in our country," he noted.  

"We are confident of the outcome."

Hairdressers are also certain that the tide has turned in favour of 'Yes'. Spending hours with ordinary people every day, they are on the pulse of referendum fever, Daily Sabah notes.

"Many of my customers, including myself, have changed our minds after the strife with the Netherlands and Germany," Naim, a barber in Istanbul, and AKP voter for the past 15 years, says.

He stressed he would vote against whatever foreign powers say, persuaded by a 'Yes' campaign which glorified the achievements of the AKP party , demonised Europe, and blamed Gulenists for last year's coup attempt.

"There is now an airport in my hometown. It was a miracle. You cannot buy this with money," Naim said, who is from a small province in eastern Turkey.

Erdogan, who has dominated the airwaves in recent weeks with multiple daily rallies and interviews, was due to give four more speeches in Istanbul ahead of the vote. In a late night interview with TRT state television, he confidently predicted a 'Yes' vote of 55-60 percent.

The opposition has cried foul that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with 'Yes' posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

Turkey is the world's largest jailer of journalists, according to advocacy group English Pen, with over 100 independent newspapers and broadcasters forced to close in the wake of the failed coup attempt in July.

As such, the group said there is widespread concern that the media could not fully perform its role in informing the public about the referendum's historic consequences.

But for the pundits in Turkish taxi ranks and hair salons, with their ears to the street, that makes little difference.

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