2017 Turkish Referendum

2017 Turkish Referendum

On Sunday, April 16th, 2017, the people in Turkey went to the polls to vote on a constitutional referendum set forth by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In this article, we shall discuss the constitutional referendum in Turkey, the announced outcome, and the response to the vote.

What is the 2017 Turkish Referendum?

The 2017 Turkish Referendum was put forth by Turkish President Erdogan, with the goal of increasing presidential powers in the country. With the rise of Erdogan’s influence in recent years, coupled with a 2016 coup that almost took Erdogan out of power, he was set on reforming the political system in a way as to give him largely unchecked power.

On this day, those in Turkey approved of the referendum, with 51.4 percent of the votes being in favor of constitutional changes (Becatorose, 2017).

Thus, the Turkish referendum was a vote on these new proposed powers.  More specifically, the 2017 Turkish Referendum has significantly altered the political landscape in the country. There were a number of proposed changes the Turkish government within the referendum. For example, one of the most noted changes is the changing from a parliamentary system to a presidential system.

Thus, “Erdogan’s critics say the amendments will entrench one-man rule and establish a de facto dictatorship. His supporters argue that given Turkey’s history of coups — including a defeated attempt last July — civil strife and failed coalition politics, a stronger executive is needed. When the new system takes effect at the next elections, expected in 2019, it will mark the biggest change in Turkish politics since the emergence of the modern republic after World War I” (Tharoor, 2017).

Plus, this ability to control the politics of Turkey could be that way for Erdogan for over a decade. As it has been noted, “

“Power would be more concentrated under the presidency.

“If the referendum is approved by majority vote, the office of prime minister would be abolished after the next elections, scheduled for 2019. Another body, the Council of Ministers, would also go, and all executive and administrative authority would be transferred to the president’s office. …

“The change would increase Erdogan’s influence over who runs for Parliament.

“Cabinet ministers would no longer have to be members of Parliament, and the Parliament would not have power over Cabinet appointments — ministers would be appointed directly by the president” (Kenyon, 2017, in Becatoros, 2017).

Moreover, under the new system, the President can be aligned with a party, which has not been the case currently. Furthermore, the President her/himself would be the only one to choose Cabinet members within the Parliament (Kenyon, 2017). In addition, “

  • He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
  • The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.
  • Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.
  • The number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600 (BBC, 2017).

Critiques of the Turkish Referendum Vote

Protesters in Turkey took to the streets to protest the way that the referendum in Turkey was help. Namely, there were worries about just how fair the run-up to the votes were. For example, Tharoor wrote of the effects of the referendum saying,

The referendum will have far-reaching implications for Turkey. The position of the prime minister has now been abolished. It is clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has run Turkey for almost 15 years, has no desire to share power with a political partner. Moreover, the referendum took place under a state of emergency proclaimed after last year’s attempted coup. Since that traumatic event, more than 100,000 public sector employees have been dismissed, the rule of law has been suspended and numerous media outlets have been shut down by force.

In such an atmosphere, there are serious concerns about the democratic legitimacy of any debate about altering the country’s political system. Indeed, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed concern about the validity of the vote…”

The report also went to say that “while the technical aspects of the referendum were well administered and referendum day proceeded in an orderly manner, late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard and were contested by the opposition.”

On top of all this, the government has suppressed one of the key opposition parties, the HDP. Top HDP figures were arrested months ago; Erdogan fears that they party is not only loyal to the state, but is aligned Kurdish terror organizations. Because of his crackdown on the HDP, “The HDP was unable to conduct an effective campaign leading up to the referendum” (Özkan, 2017). Overall, many opposed to the changes felt that they were intimidated, struck physically, and not given sufficient space to challenge the AKP’s position (Becatoros, 2017).

As Becatoros (2017) notes, “Everywhere in Turkey — in the streets, in public squares, on television, in the newspapers — the “yes” campaign dominated. Making full use of the public funds at its disposal, the AKP appealed to voters’ emotions, portraying itself as full of valor and zeal.” Meanwhile, “There was no sign of the skeptical, critical, deliberative atmosphere that is a precondition for any constitutional referendum. Leaders of various parties never appeared on television to debate each other in front of the nation. Even more troublingly, those in the “no” camp were, at times, accused of being terrorists or coup supporters. In the absence of free debate and other democratic conventions, the referendum simply became a plebiscite validating the country’s transition to one-man rule.”

Erdogan quickly challenged international electoral monitors, saying that they should “know their place.” He went on to say that he did not “see, hear or acknowledge” any reports of electoral problems by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (Kennedy, 2017).

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