Turkish constitutional referendum: Explained

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In two weeks time, the people of Turkey will go to the polls to determine the future direction of their country in a highly controversial referendum. Critics have suggested that, if voted through, it could result to ‘one-man rule’, but supporters say the reforms in the referendum will bring about stability following an attempted coup. Here’s what you need to know about the Turkish constitutional referendum.

WHAT CHANGES ARE BEING VOTED ON?

The referendum would see radical change to the country if passed, effectively changing the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. The reforms being voted on include:

  • Making the president the head of the executive, as well as head of state
  • Allowing the president to maintain their ties to their political party, rather than being neutral on political matters
  • Granting the role of president new powers to appoint cabinet ministers without a vote in parliament, prepare the budget, enact some laws by decree and power to appoint more than half of the highest judicial body
  • Providing the president the power to dissolve the national assembly and declare states of emergency
  • Abolishing the role of Prime Minister, replaced with two or three vice-president roles
  • Revoking the right of parliament to ask questions of the government (known as interpellation)

The changes would result in the president becoming head of state, head of government and also head of the ruling party, which critics have said eats away at the checks and balances required in a democracy.

If the people vote in favour of the reforms, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held at the same time in future, with the next elections taking place in 2019. In addition, term limits would be reset, meaning Erdogan could remain as president until 2029.

WHY ARE THEY VOTING?

Reform of the constitution was first proposed after Erdogan’s party won its third election in 2011, but this failed to gain momentum at the time. Once Erdogan became Turkey’s first directly-elected president in 2014, proposals to turn to a presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system, gained strength and were a key platform that the ruling party contested both 2015 elections on. The proposed amendments were put to parliament in January this year, achieving the 60% needed to pass and go to referendum.

The vote also comes less than a year since an attempted coup in Turkey, with a faction of the Armed Forces citing an erosion of secularism and democratic rule as reasons behind the attempt to bring down Erdogan.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS?

The ‘Yes’ campaign has said that the reforms will help bring about a strong and great Turkey, and put an end to conflicts between the different branches of government. The campaign has also heavily criticised groups planning on voting no, associating them with terrorist organisations and lashing out at foreign leaders.

The ‘No’ campaign, on the other hand, have said that the proposed changes will weaken parliament and put greater power into the hands of President Erdogan. They fear that these reforms could result in one-man rule without the checks and balances to hold him properly to account, particularly due to the planned powers to appoint over half of the judiciary, appoint ministers and the power to dissolve the national assembly.

WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?

The polls have shown a very close race, with the majority of polls in the last month suggesting a narrow win for the no campaign. However, these polls are within the margin of error.

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