Turkey’s Referendum

How will people vote, under intimidation?

On Sunday, 16 April 17, Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum. Voters shall vote on 18 proposed amendments, to the Constitution of Turkey. The amendments have been proposed by the ruling AK Party, whose leader is President Recap Tayyaip Erdogan. The opposition nationalist party MHP, is also in favor of the change.

What are the Major Amendments?

The major amendments include; an executive Presidency to replace the existing Parliamentary system of government; abolition of the office of Prime Minister; raising the number of seats in Parliament from 550 to 600 and changes in the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

How was the Bill Passed in Parliament?

On 20 Jan 17, the Turkish Parliament voted in favor of the Referendum, with 339 votes in favor, surpassing the required three-fifth majority of 330 votes. The main opposition party (Republican) CHP, voted against the proposal.

What Happened After the Failed Coup?

On 15 July 16, a coup was attempted in Turkey, against all state institutions, including but not limited to the Government of Erdogan. It was organized by a faction of the Turkish Armed forces. However, their attempt to take-over several key locations failed, after forces loyal to the state defeated them. The Government announced a state of emergency, which continues to exist and accused coup leaders of belonging to the Gulen Movement; led by cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, US. Though Erdogan blames Gulen for the failed coup, the latter denies the charge.

How Strong was the Purge?

More than 300 people are estimated to have been killed in the purge, after the failed coup. 40,000 people were arrested and more than 125,000 people lost their jobs; including Army officers, Police officers, Academics, Judges and teachers. A further 21,000 teachers of private educational institutions had their licenses revoked. All allegedly for being loyal to Fethullah Gulen.

What is the Public Mood?

The President’s supporters say changes will usher a strong Turkey, no longer subject to the chaos of coalition governments and will resolve conflicts of power in the executive branch. Critics fear that Turkey becoming a country under one-man-rule, with power concentrated in the hands of Erdogan, who will consolidate authority, with a friendly Parliament and Judiciary.

Opposition leaders have warned of a campaign of harassment and intimidation by the government, in the run up to the Referendum. A wave of arrests of opposition law-makers, activists, journalists and closure of some media outlets have left a predominantly government-friendly press, moderating the debate on the vote.

Assessment

Events surrounding the coup-attempt and the purge thereafter, suggest a complex power struggle, between Islamist elites, in Turkey. Should the ‘Yes’ campaign win, Erdogan will be able to stand for two-more terms, potentially keeping him in power till 2029. The Referendum is really on Recap Tayyaip Erdogan, modern Turkey’s most successful, yet most divisive leader.