Turkey held a referendum yesterday in regard to the structure of the Turkish government. On its face it was intended to modernize the 1980 constitution, which was drafted after the last military takeover to preserve the Kemalist system. The referendum involved constitutional reform that increases the power of the President of Turkey.
The plan turns Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. Among the numerous changes:
- The role of prime minister will be scrapped. The new post of vice president, possibly two or three, will be created.
- The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party.
- He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
- The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.
- Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.
- The number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600.
- Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on the same day every five years. The president will be limited to two terms.
There appear to be a number of observed and reported irregularities in the voting and the tallying of the votes regarding the referendum.
As Arab News reports:
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s two main opposition parties on Sunday said they would challenge the results putting the ‘Yes’ camp ahead in the referendum on expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after alleged violations.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said that whatever the final result, it would challenge two-thirds of the vote, saying: “There is an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote.”
The deputy head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Bulent Tezcan, denounced “violations” by the election authorities in allowing ballot papers without an official stamp to be used.
Another CHP deputy head, Erdal Aksunger, said it could appeal up to 60 percent of the vote.
“Believe me, this election is not over,” he told CNN Turk, quoted by the Dogan news agency. “This is totally invalid. We are declaring this here.”
He said that the CHP was appealing 37 percent of the ballot box results, and this figure could eventually rise to 60 percent. “Since the morning, we have detected violations,” he said.
Turkish media said that CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was convening a special meeting of its executive board.
The EU had its monitors on site because Turkey still has an open application to join the European Union. Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) sent monitors.
… observers from the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said on April 17 that the legal framework for the referendum “remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum.”
The monitors also said the referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and that the counting of ballots in the April 16 referendum had been marred by “late procedural changes.”
President Erdogan responded by calling out the EU and its monitors:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated a crowd of supporters gathered outside his presidential palace on Monday evening to a speech laced with invective against Europe, saying his victory in a referendum on Sunday took place under conditions that were democratic beyond compare.
“We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George,’” Erdogan said, using the names as stand-ins for his European critics. “All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over.”
This, unfortunately, fits with President Erdogan’s ongoing attempts to reorient Turkey away from an EU he perceives as perpetually dragging its feet regarding Turkish membership (he is not wrong) and from the EU’s attempts to restrict his power and his remaking of Turkish politics and society. Even more unfortunate was the President’s response to the outcome of the referendum.
I think that it is highly likely that despite what the EU monitors have observed and reported, and the challenges by Turkish opposition parties, that the outcome of the referendum will stand. This will significantly increase President Erdogan’s power, which he is eligible to wield all the way through the 2029 Turkish elections if repeatedly reelected. In many ways this referendum put the democratic process to work to achieve a very anti-democratic and authoritarian outcome, or at least an anti-democratic outcome that will allow Erdogan to become more authoritarian. In many ways it is the logical follow on from last summer’s abortive coup. Regardless, it is neither a positive outcome for Turkey, nor was the President’s response to this in his call to Erdogan a good thing.
(Full disclosure: One of my former students, from my first year assigned to USAWC, has been accused by the Erdogan government of participation in the failed coup. I was his front line supervisor/academic advisor and his research advisor/supervisor. I have been unable to reach him or his wife since the night the coup began. The last time I heard from him was in 2015 when I wrote a letter of reference for his application to a Belgian graduate program while he was assigned at NATO headquarters. He is an excellent officer, a true gentleman, and a loyal Turk.)