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Turkey Referendum Expands Presidential Powers

By Shamel Dishack
Staff Writer

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has officially been granted more presidential powers after a constitutional referendum held throughout Turkey on April 16. The Turkish public voted on a No/Yes basis, and the results confirmed that the referendum has passed with 51 percent of the votes. As a result, amendments have been introduced that will tip the scales of powers to the President’s favor.

Foreign Affairs reports that these amendments offer powers that will make President Erdogan the most powerful Turkish official since former president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. These amendments offer powers such as opening up two additional five-year terms for Erdogan, the elimination of the Prime Minister’s office, the ability for a president to dissolve the parliament, and to elect the top judiciary officials in the country.

President Erdogan has repeatedly bolstered for a new constitution throughout his presidential term. As a president since 2014, and even during his 11 years as Prime Minister, he has long advocated for a shift in legislative powers in favor of the executive branch, as it will break the political gridlock that has prevented any proper actions from taking place.

Despite the foreshadowing of a revision to the constitutional powers, much of the Turkish public and the international community have reacted negatively. Although the public deemed the results unsurprising, allegations of fraud and demands of a recount have emerged following such a divisive referendum.

International monitors in an NPR report have raised questions about the votes and the opposition is demanding a recount. Prior to April 16, riots and protests were seen throughout Turkey. Although Turkey’s three largest cities, Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir all voted no, President Erdogan and the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) won by a slim margin.

European Union (EU) observer Stefan Schennach and Turkey’s main opposition party leader Bulent Tezcan are among the many officials that have called the voting unfair and demanded a recount to much of the votes. Going further, Schennach even said in a tweet that the circumstances surrounding the votes were “unfair and unfree.”

Accusations of state involvement in swaying votes in Turkey have been rampant and are nothing new. The government, as usual, did everything it could to suppress “no” voters and votes in the Kurdish southeast district. The state-run media would also heavily pander towards the referendum and demonize any opposition that was mounting against the constitutional reformations.

Upon receiving what many would call the President’s greatest political victory yet, he states that these reforms are needed in order to raise nationalist sentiments to combat the Gulenists and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in the region. These reasons provided the fuel needed for Turkey to tip the scales of the rule and have seemingly drawn the country closer and closer to authoritarianism. This emergence of a strongman in Europe cannot be restricted to Erdogan, as leaders in Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Hungary have or are experiencing the strongman tendency. If this continues, then we are less likely to see a secular Turkey anytime soon.

This referendum may have granted the president new executive powers, but he is still constitutionally obligated to refrain from infringing upon rights enshrined in the constitution. However, with the heightened state of security and the political divide that threatens the AKP’s relevance, it is likely that president Erdogan will commence structural reformations that will favor the executive branch even more.

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