In a TV debate while on a campaign tour on 17 August, Erdoğan called on TÜSİAD, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association, to say whether it is for or against the government's proposed constitutional amendments.
"Declare your stance. If it is no, say 'no.' If it is yes, say 'yes' [...] He who is neutral will be eliminated," Erdoğan said.
Other statements made in recent days also appear questionable. Turkey's chief negotiator with the EU, Egemen Bağış, reportedly said that he would question "the mental health and patriotism of anyone intending to vote against" the constitutional amendments in the referendum.
TÜSİAD rejected any kind of pressure and tutorship over the free will of individuals and stated that Erdoğan's pressure on the business world had no place in modern democracies.
"The warning was an unfortunate act and will certainly not serve the cause of strengthening the role of civil society in modern societies," TÜSİAD said in a statement.
Speaking to EurActiv, Bahadir Kaleagasi, international coordinator at TÜSİAD, described the misplaced statements as "disastrous".
"This wording about TÜSİAD to be eliminated is going too far. The government constitutionally has the power, it controls the military, it controls the security forces, the Ministry of Finance, the public prosecution…having all these powers, if the government threatens a legitimate organization, this is an abuse of constitutional power," Kaleagasi said.
Kaleagasi said he still hoped Erdoğan would "correct this very worrying error". He added that no matter what the result of the constitutional referendum, Turkey would still need a new modern constitution.
"The present constitution, modified or not, does not correspond to the requirements of the competitive Turkish society of the 21st century," he stressed.
Apparently AKP party had crossed certain lines by accusing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP, the main opposition party, of not having "legitimate" ethnic origins. His mother is Armenian and his father is Kurdish, which they claim turns many Turks hostile to those ethnic groups away from supporting the party.
The president reacts
Apparently concerned by the nasty turn the debate has taken ahead of the referendum, Turkish President Abdullah Gül warned political leaders to watch their manners while campaigning, the Turkish press reported.
"I have difficulty in bringing them together," he said on Wednesday, speaking to journalists travelling with him to Azerbaijan.
The president also criticised parties for urging citizens to vote 'yes' or 'no' without explaining the details of the constitutional amendment.