The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sunday (April 16) achieved victory in a historic referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will introduce presidential form of government like France and the United States.
In a press conference in Istanbul following his party’s declaration of victory, Erdoğan said that unofficial results showed there were about 25m yes votes, 1.3m more than no.
Erdoğan said foreign powers should respect the referendum’s outcome. “For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics,” Erdogan said, referring to the military coups which marred Turkish politics for decades. “That is why it is very significant.”
Under the changes, most of which will only come into effect after the next elections due in 2019, the president will appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, and be able to select and remove senior civil servants without parliamentary approval.
Supreme Electoral Council President Sadi Guven also confirmed that the “yes” votes had prevailed, according to unofficial results. He said official results would arrive in about 10 days, after any objections had been considered. The yes campaign won 1.25m more votes than the no campaign, with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted, Güven told reporters in Ankara.
Results carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed the yes vote had about 51.3% compared with 48.7% for the no vote, with nearly 99% of the vote counted. Turnout exceeded 80%.
The country’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – voted against the changes, and so did the vast majority of Kurdish voters and many of the coastal cities, indicating a general decline in the ruling party’s support.
The package of 18 amendments would abolish the office of prime minister and give the president the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency and issue decrees overseeing ministries without parliamentary approval. The draft states: 1.The next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on November 3, 2019. 2.The president would have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms. 3.The president would be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers. 4. He would also be able to assign one or several vice-presidents 5.The office of prime minister, currently held by Binali Yildirim, would be scrapped. 6. The president would decide whether or not impose a state of emergency.
The current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup.
President Erdogan says the changes are needed to address Turkey’s security challenges nine months after an attempted coup, and to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past. The new system, he argues, will resemble those in France and the US and will bring calm in a time of turmoil marked by a Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and conflict in neighboring Syria, which has led to a huge refugee influx. Speaking at one of his final rallies in Istanbul’s Tuzla district, President Erdogan told supporters the new constitution would “bring stability and trust that is needed for our country to develop and grow”.
Critics of the proposed changes fear the move would make the president’s position too powerful, arguing that it would amount to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.
Opponents say it is a step towards greater authoritarianism in a country where around 40,000 people have been arrested and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last July, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups.
Cautious Western Reaction
The West offered cautious reaction to President Erdogan’s referendum victory
The European Union (EU) urged the Turkish government to seek the broadest possible national consensus. “In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation,” said a statement issued by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said that “in view of the close result” – 51.3 per cent voted with Erdogan according to near total unofficial results – “the Turkish leadership should consider the next steps carefully”. It is of the utmost importance, said Jagland, “to secure the independence of the judiciary in line with the principle of rule of law enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights”. Turkey is a full member of the Council of Europe, which “stands ready to support the country in this process”, Jagland added.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, said on Twitter that “it shows how divided the country is; Collaboration with the EU will be even more complex”. “Strange to see democracy restrict democracy. The majority has the right to decide, but I’m quite concerned about new Turkish constitution,” Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said Twitter. A NATO official was quoted as saying that the constitutional referendum in alliance member Turkey “is a matter for the Turkish people”.
Relations between Turkey and Europe hit a low during the referendum campaign when EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies in support of the changes. Erdogan called the moves “Nazi acts” and said Turkey could reconsider ties with the European Union after many years of seeking EU membership. Just ahead of the final results, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: “We’d be well advised to keep calm and to proceed in a level-headed way.” About 1.4m Turks living in Germany were eligible to vote.
According to CNN, The Turkish opposition took issue with the results, saying the country’s electoral authority had decided to “change the rules in the middle of the game.” The High Electoral Board announced it would not accept ballots that were missing ballot commission stamps. But the board changed course after voting was underway, saying it would accept unstamped ballots “unless they are proven to have been brought from outside.”
The opposition said this would affect the legitimacy of the vote and called for a partial recount of about 37% of the votes, said Erdal Aksunger of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He left the door open to challenging a higher percentage of the ballots.
“The High Electoral Board has changed the rules after the voting started. There is a clear clause in electoral law saying unstamped ballots will be invalid and the High Electoral Board issued its notice in compliance with this law,” the Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said.
Later, CHP leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu said in a news conference, “On what grounds do you declare these valid? … You should not change the rules in the middle of the game. … This is not right. We will never accept this.”
Sadi Guvel, President of the Supreme Electoral Council, said the board has made similar decisions in the past. He said the board made the decision before results began coming in.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com