Turkey referendum: A significant milestone

Monday, 2017-04-24 11:37:49
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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (R) casts his ballot at a polling station during a referendum in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
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NDO – A narrow majority of Turks voted ‘Yes; to change the constitution to move the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government, which will grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. Despite winning the referendum, President Erdogan still faces a number of challenge as the result has deepened divisions among parties in the country as well as in the relations between Turkey and the European Union (EU).

The referendum to change the constitution in Turkey gained approval after narrowly taking the upper hand with 51.4% support. As a result, President Erdogan will be granted with sweeping powers since the amendments would give the president the authority to appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, draft the budget, dissolve the parliament, and more importantly, he will be allowed to remain in office until 2029.

The changes in the political system will pave the way for President Erdogan to make new policies aiming to bring stability and development to his country as previously pledged. President Erdogan said that the changes are needed to confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid “the fragile coalition governments” of the past. He had argued the "Turkish-style" presidential system would bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by a failed coup in July 2016, and a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

The close victory of supporters in the referendum has forewarned a tough journey ahead for President Erdogan. With 48% opponents of constitutional reform, Turkey is concerned that the transformation of the political system will not be as smooth as anticipated as a series of changes will come into effect after the next elections due to be held in 2019. After President Erdogan declared the victory, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted an appeal to the Council of State – the top court of Turkey. The opposition parties, including the CHP, the Peoples' Democratic Party and the Motherland Party, have filled petitions to the High Election Council to cancel the referendum result, arguing that a number of unverified ballots had made their way into the vote totals.

President Erdogan’s campaign to support constitution changes has heightened tension and scepticism in the relations of the country with its European allies. While Presidents of Russia and the US congratulated President Erdogan on the victory, leaders of European counties responded cautiously to the Turkey vote.

According to the Council of Europe observer mission, up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated in the Turkish referendum. Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik denounced EU's call for an investigation and called on the bloc to "respect democratic processes". Ankara said that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have gone beyond their limits.

Rejecting criticism from the EU, President Erdogan announced that the referendum in his country was the “most democratic election” of any Western country. Despite opposition from the EU, the Turkish President has even suggested holding a referendum to reinstate the death penalty.

The result of the recent referendum on changing Turkey's constitution is a significant milestone for the country. Although President Erdogan won the majority of support, nearly half of voters opposed the new constitution, showing that the Turks have not fully approved the changes. President Erdogan is now facing many difficulties, particularly on how to achieve a consensus in relation to his policies that will shape Turkey’s future.