Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tomorrow Turkey Will Never Be the Same Again

A picture of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is seen through Turkish national flags ahead of the constitutional referendum in Istanbul, Turkey, April 14, 2017.

© REUTERS/ Alkis Konstantinidis


Turkey is holding a referendum on Sunday on a package of proposed constitutional amendments which, if approved, would dramatically expand President Erdogan's powers and turn the country into a presidential republic.

Although "yes" campaigners currently slightly lead in polls, it is hard to make any predictions as political tension in Turkey remains high.

What will the people vote for in the referendum?

The proposed changes to the constitution were previously approved by the parliament and signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party and a majority of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party members supported the proposed changes, while the opposition left-of-center Republican People’s Party and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party voted against and accused Erdogan of dictatorial intentions.

If the amendments are accepted, there would no longer be a formal cabinet answerable to parliament.
The 21-point draft replaces the current parliamentary system with a presidential one making the president the sole executive authority in the country. The president will also be able to appoint the vice president, Cabinet ministers and other top officials.

The prime minister’s office will be abolished. The president will become the head of the executive branch and will be allowed to issue decrees, including the right to declare a state of emergency. The latter will require parliamentary approval though.

The president will also be empowered to issue other legally-binding decrees without preliminary parliamentary approval. However, these could eventually be revoked by legislators.

The elected head of state will retain his current right to serve as the leader of a political party.

The number of MPs will be increased to 600 from 550 now. The age of parliamentary candidacy will be lowered from 25 to 18.

The president and parliament will have shared authority to call re-votes.

The presidential and parliamentary polls will take place simultaneously, every five years. The president will serve a maximum of 2 consecutive terms.

The Turkish government says the proposed constitutional amendments will bring strong leadership amid the existing terrorist threat and will prevent a return of the fragile coalition governments of the past, which have often paralyzed the executive branch.

If the proposed changes are approved, the next presidential and parliamentary elections will simultaneously be held on November 3, 2019, and the presidential system of governance will take effect.
At a crossroads

Many in Turkey fear that Sunday’s vote could seal the end of the modern Turkish secular state that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established 94 years ago.

In its attempts to persuade people to vote “yes” the authorities extended a moratorium on electricity price hikes, gave tax breaks to businessmen and increase social benefits. Several cabinet ministered were sent to Europe to drum up support among members of the local Turkish communities.

This led to a series of scandals with German and then Dutch authorities using every pretext to prevent pro-Erdogan rallies happening in their countries.

Who will vote and how?

President Erdogan is staking on support from his ruling Justice and Development Party, which garnered 49 percent of votes during the latest parliamentary elections, and the ultra-right Nationalist Movement Party (12%). Combined, these two parties could theoretically ensure over 60 percent of “yes” votes on Sunday.

However, the Nationalist Movement Party is now split with a majority of its members opposed to the idea of a presidential republic. Even some members of Erdogan’s very own Justice and Development Party could vote against.

A majority of Kurds and the entire Kemalist Republican People’s Party are also expected to say “no” to the draft.

Although "yes" campaigners currently have a slight edge over potential naysayers (51% to 49%), much will depend on public servants many of whom, while dependent on the ruling party, are not happy about its initiatives.
What next?

The outcome of Sunday’s vote is as unpredictable as are its consequences. Many analysts still believe that Turkey will never be the same again. If the president’s party wins out, the supporters of a secular state could take to the streets.

If Erdogan’s party is defeated, his increasingly radicalized Islamist supporters could equally revolt plunging the country into chaos.

In any event, it looks like Turkey should be bracing for hard times ahead.

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