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The Turkish Referendum: Everything You Need To Know

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On 16th April 2017, the people of Turkey will vote on a referendum to decide the future political system of the country. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he wants to shift towards the ‘U.S. way’ of governance, the Opposition fears that he is actually trying to go to ‘1930’s Germany way’.

What is the Referendum?

The country of Turkey, at present, has a Parliamentary system of government, which bestows executive powers to the Prime Minister with the President being mostly a ceremonial head of state. This political system is similar to the one we currently have in India.

However, in 2016 the AKP (Justice and Development Party) proposed amendments to the Constitution to change this governance structure of Turkey and initiated the procedure to hold a referendum so the people could decide. Finally, April 2017 was set as the month for the referendum to occur.

What will the new system look like?

The amendments aim to convert the current Turkish system into a Presidential form of government. The new set up will be similar to the one in place in the U.S.

– The office of the Prime Minister will be abolished and all executive powers will be transferred to the President.

– The Parliament will be in charge of the legislature and total number of seats will rise from 550 to 600.

– The President will be allowed to pass executive orders but a legislative bill passed by the Parliament will be considered to supersede these orders.

The election procedure will also be overhauled with both the Presidential and Parliament elections happening at the same time. These elections will take place every 5 years instead of the current 4-year schedule.

Who wants ‘Yes’ to win and why?

Current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, belonging to the APK, is at the helm of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim (also belonging to the APK) and Devlet Bahceli (Chairman of Nationalist Movement Party) are also in support of the cause.

Since, in the new system, the executive wing will be completely under a directly elected President, important decisions will no longer be at the mercy of coalition politics of Parliament.

Thus, Erdogan is of the opinion that the change will enable Turkey to react effectively to problems such as terrorism and insurgencies. This line of thought is gaining traction in Turkey after the recent coup attempt and rise in terrorism.

Who wants ‘No’ to win and why?

The critics of the change consist mainly of The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the official Opposition and a dominant political party of Turkey. Supporting the CHP is HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and some rebel members of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party).

They are of the opinion that this political change will put too much power in the hands of the President and fear a shift towards dictatorship. They cite authoritative policies by Erdogan during his stint as Prime Minister (2003-2014) and President (2014 onwards) to validate their claim.

Erdogan, in 2007, launched a massive investigation into an alleged coup plot. The investigation accused generals and other officers of the army, opposition leaders, journalists, and even academics of conspiracy. By 2013, 300 people were put in jail. Last year, following a failed coup attempt, a similar process was followed, which ended with 17,740 people being put in prison. These actions have raised concern in the Opposition who suspect Erdogan is attempting to purge Turkey off dissent, to become an authoritarian ruler.

What do the people of Turkey want?

According to polls, ‘Yes’ vote is in the lead, but barely. Recently, 2 Turkish opinion polls suggest a 51-52% of Turks would vote ‘Yes’. However, ‘No’ has gained substantial ground from earlier polling results, however, polls themselves are known for getting it wrong often in recent times (E.g. Brexit and U.S. elections). So, the outcome of the upcoming Sunday referendum still remains uncertain.

A ‘No’ win will be a major blow to Erdogan’s political career. A ‘Yes’ win will change Turkey completely. Either way,  the future of Turkey is at stake with this referendum.

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