MAMOSA Report — Turkey will stage a decisive referendum on Sunday April 16 after weeks of tense campaigning by the “yes” and “no” camps regarding an 18-article constitutional amendment that foresees the replacement of the parliamentary system with an executive presidential system that will endow the president with vastly enhanced powers.
Some 55 million Turkish voters are eligible to cast votes following a divisive campaign that was launched in October 2016 when the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) announced its support to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) long-anticipated project of replacing the current government system with a presidential system with power concentrated in one hand.
If the package is approved, the president will be able to retain ties with the political party he or she belongs to.
As part of the changes, both the office of the prime minister and the cabinet will be abolished while the president will acquire all executive powers with the authority to issue decrees on the state’s structure as well as its functions.
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The changes also grant authority to the president to issue decrees within the executive jurisdiction, declare a state of emergency and appoint public officials. But presidential decrees will not be permitted on issues concerning human rights or basic freedoms, or to override existing laws.
The president will be able to declare a state of emergency without necessary cabinet approval and to draft the budget, which is currently drawn up by parliament. The changes will allow the president to dissolve the parliament which will trigger the renewal of presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously.
The package also includes articles to overhaul the structures of two key supreme judicial bodies, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
The referendum is expected to attract a high turnout, with 1.2 million young people eligible to vote for the first time.
The election process for Turkish citizens living abroad ended on April 9. Over a million registered citizens voted at 120 foreign missions in 57 countries.
Some 1,326,070 votes have arrived in Turkey and been placed in 903 transparent boxes which are secured at a congress center in Ankara waiting to be counted after the voting process ends in Turkey.
The European Union and Council of Europe have voiced concern over the fairness of the campaign, highlighting the fact that it is being carried out under emergency rule introduced after July’s failed coup. Armed troops are prominent in opposition strongholds, creating an air of intimidation.
“Legitimate dissent and criticism of government policy are vilified and repressed,” Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, warned about the impact of emergency rule ahead of the campaign.
The friction with Europe has led to open animosity from Erdogan, who said German and Dutch leaders were using “Nazi practices” by resisting his efforts to have his deputies campaign for “yes” votes among the sizable expatriate communities living in neighboring countries.
One of the most significant criticisms against the package was voiced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in a report issued last month describing the proposed model as a “Turkish-style” presidential system/ The report added, “…the timing is most unfortunate and is itself cause of concern: the current state of emergency does not provide for the due democratic setting for a constitutional referendum.”
Regardless of whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan succeeds in bolstering his clout in Sunday’s constitutional referendum, one thing is clear: despite a crackdown on his critics and the media, the country is deeply divided, with signs that the gap is growing, wrote Paul Alexander in his analysis published on VOA News website.
“That is bad, not only for Turkey, but for just about everyone with interests in the region, given the country’s economic power and historically strategic location as a bridge between East and West – particularly with Syria’s civil war and the fight against so-called Islamic State raging on its border,” Alexander wrote.
Only a few years ago, Turkey seemed well-entrenched as a flourishing democracy and well on the way to joining the European Union. It has huge potential with Europe’s youngest population: 19 million of the 75 million people are ages 15 to 29.
Today, it stands accused of human rights abuses that have included imprisoning more than 45,000 people, among them the leaders and nine other legislators from the second-largest opposition party in parliament, for alleged links to Kurdish terrorists.
Rallies for the “No” camp are banned due to possible terrorism; coverage of its arguments is severely limited. In fact, almost any opposition to the changes proposed in the referendum carries the risk of being labeled as terrorism.
The once-vibrant media have seen their freedoms severely curtailed, with many of journalists jailed. The judiciary’s power has been eroded. Unemployment is at 10.7 percent and up to 25 percent among the young who embody the future.
A shift from America’s sphere of influence to Russia’s seems possible, and the prospects of joining the EU are stalled, if not dead.
“Erdogan has pursued this greater responsibility despite an increasingly disastrous record of governance,” Freedom House wrote in an analysis of the election.
“For nearly four years, Turkey has been trapped in a cascade of crises – protests, terrorist attacks, crackdowns, a coup attempt, purges and war. The only blow the country hasn’t suffered is an economic crash, but that too seems imminent, as tourism and foreign investment have cratered and Erdogan has subordinated fiscal and macroeconomic management to his short-term political agenda.”
Analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy was equally harsh.
“The country’s deep social chasm gives even the most ardent optimist grave cause for concern,” he said.
As for Alexander, “Turkey faces lose-lose choice in referendum,” he wrote in his analysis. But some don’t agree with Alexander’s analysis.
“I have been voting for Tayyip Erdogan for 17-18 years, and he never failed me,” says retiree Ibrahim Yazka, explaining why he will vote “yes.”
“If he wants, he can just sit in the presidential mansion and sign papers; but, this man loves this country so much that he can’t stop. He believes he should do more. That’s why I believe in him.”