The eyes of the world are on the Turkish referendum, as the people of the nation decide whether to radically change the constitution. A simple “Yes” or “No” vote was all that stood between the president gaining new powers, including becoming the head of government and head of state. Political opponents have warned that a “Yes” vote could spell the end for democratic accountability.
An overview of the results
- A close “Yes” result – 51.3% vote in favor of the changes
- 48.7% vote against
- A high voter turnout of 86.4%
- The official results will be published in eleven days, but the result seems to be certain.
- The leader of the opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu refuses to accept the result.
- Election observers from the OSCE branded the election “an unfair playing field” as the “No” vote had little to no coverage in the Turkish media.
What will the Turkish Referendum Change?
Here are just a few of the numerous changes that the referendum will lead to:
The president will now be elected by the people. The presidential position was previously mostly a ceremonial role but has been granted numerous powers and extensions. A counter to this, is that the position of president will now be directly elected by the people.
More powers to the president: The president will crucially remain affiliated to a political party. The president will be the head of state as well as the head of government. New powers include managing the budget, appointing senior judges and ministers, as well as being the sole position that may declare a state of emergency or end a session of parliament.
The position of Prime Minister will be abandoned. The argument goes that as the president will now be directly elected, the position should not have to compete with the Prime Minister for the implementation of laws and governing the country. Other positions, such as vice president, will be created as replacements.
A reduction of parliamentary powers. MPs are now unable to criticize ministers but, with a two-thirds majority, may begin the process of impeaching the president. The number of MPs has also been increased to 600.
Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held every on the same day, every five years. Presidents are only able to serve two terms – meaning that Erdogan can be in office until 2029 should he succeed in the next two elections.
A Bitterly Fought Campaign
The referendum was divided, with a line being drawn between two deeply entrenched camps. “Yes” voters sought to grant powers to Erdogan in the hope of stopping or reducing the number and frequency of terrorist attacks in Turkey. Similarly, previous frustrations at political standoffs in parliament and government standstills are at the forefront of the “Yes” camp. By “streamlining” the process of government it is hoped that Turkey will be governed more effectively. The other camp is deeply worried by the sweeping measures that the referendum will lead to. Increases in the power of the president in other governments are offset by equal measures or checks and balances in the judiciary or legislative branches. The Turkish judiciary however, have been significantly weakened in recent years. Indeed, the independent watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked them as 151 out of 180 countries measured in 2016.
“No” campaigners have demonstrated against what is seen as the beginnings of a Turkish dictatorship and bemoaned the lack of a visible campaign against the referendum in the run-up to the referendum. Indeed, this criticism has been levelled at the “Yes” campaign by protestors, watchdogs, international organisations and governments alike. Protests have taken place in Ankara and Istanbul. Similarly, radical and sometimes bizarre arguments have taken place even amongst politicians – politicians have chained themselves in the building and punches (and even a plant) were thrown during some heated discussion-turned-arguments.
The Impact – from NATO to the EU
Turkey has had a difficult relationship with both NATO and the EU in recent years. In the run-up to the election, Erdogan has branded EU leaders as “Nazis”, jumping on an anti-EU sentiment to whip up support for the “Yes” vote. The EU as a whole supported the “no” vote. Concerns were raised about Erdogan’s treatment of his political opponents, critics as well as certain minorities. NATO has its interests on both combatting IS and curbing Russian influence in the region. Turkey has insulted European members of NATO, drawing harsh criticisms from Europe and the US alike. Despite this, the Turkish referendum result may lead to a Turkey confident of acting alone in the region.
It remains to be seen the extent to which the Turkish referendum will have on regional stability. Western leaders will, however, be seriously concerned.
Up Next – the French elections. Could France cause further damage to the state of the EU?