What You Need to Know About the Turkish Referendum

On April 16, 2017, Turkey had a referendum calling for an executive presidency that would change the nation’s constitution.

Before, Turkey had a parliamentary system, with a President that is not tied to a political party and only holds symbolic powers alongside a Prime Minister which acts as the active executor. The referendum would call for the elimination of the Prime Minister role and would grant the President executive powers. It would also create the role of Vice President and allow the President to become head of the executive and the state. The President will be given vast new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges, enact certain laws by decree, be able to announce a state of emergency, and dismiss parliament.

This referendum was primarily pushed by the AKP, the right-wing non-secular political party that is in control of the Turkish government. Supporters of the referendum say that it will make the government stronger and more unified, but this may not be the case. Although this kind of presidential system is effective in a nation with proper checks and balances, like the United States, it could be very dangerous for Turkey which has limited free press and plummeting judiciary independence. Giving such sweeping new powers to the President may only bring Turkey one step closer to being run by a dictatorship.  The all-powerful President would be able to change laws and basically do whatever he pleases without much opposition from others in power.

Unfortunately, the referendum passed, although by a slim majority of 52%. However, during the counting of the votes, the High Electoral Board announced it would not accept ballots that were missing ballot commission stamps, but changed course after voting was underway, saying it would accept unstamped ballots “unless they are proven to have been brought from outside.” Many people said that this would affect the legitimacy of the vote and called for a partial recount of the votes.

This controversial referendum which has altered the Turkish Constitution and allowed the Turkish government to potentially become a totalitarian regime has garnered widespread opposition. The fierce opposition has led to a possible recounting of votes as well as endless backlash and protesting from “No” voters. With this referendum in Turkey, we must always remember to never take a democratically run government for granted and to keep in mind that in important issues like this one, every vote counts.



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