Turkey referendum: All you need to know about Turkey's April 16 Yes/No polls

Namrata Tripathi
Turkey referendum

Turkey is all set to vote on Sunday, April 16, for a referendum which could extensively broaden President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers in the government. The Yes/No polls could arguably bring about the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923.

President Erdogan has been promoting the 'Yes' campaign for months, urging his ministers to venture out of the country to garner votes for him through expatriate Turks living across Europe.

Here's all you need to know about the referendum which could change Turkey's constitutional system, from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential system:

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What is a referendum?

A referendum is an election device which determines whether a particular law will be put in place or if it will be repealed, based on the popular vote of the people. In Turkey's referendum, citizens will go to polling booths to vote either a 'Yes' or 'No' for the proposed constitutional changes.

Turkey referendum

What will the referendum decide?

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The question this referendum will pose in front of the voters is whether Turkey should have an executive presidency or not? An executive presidency means that the role of the Prime Minister in Turkey's constitution will be scrapped and the President will assume the position of head of the government.

Turkey currently has a parliamentary-based political system, where the Prime Minister is head of the government and the head of the state, but has limited political powers.

Why is the referendum happening?

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The referendum is asking the voters to either approve or decline a proposed set of 18 amendments to the constitution. The voting has gone to the public as a final measure, because the proposed changes to the nation's constitution did not get the backing of two-thirds of MPs in the Parliament.

On January 16, the constitutional reforms were passed in the Turkish Grand National Assembly on January 16 with a simple majority, and then were approved by President Erdogan.

What would happen if the 'Yes' side gets majority of the votes?

If Erdogan's proposed reform to the constitution is accepted by majority of the people, then the role of the president will see a transition from a largely ceremonial position to an extremely powerful one.

If the majority votes 'Yes', then the President would become the Turkish government's leader and would appoint all cabinet ministers in the government. Those ministers, in turn, would get the power to appoint two-thirds of the country's senior judges. They will also have the power to dismiss parliament or declare a state of emergency in the nation.

As a result of the vote, the parliament would lose some of its powers, including its ability to summon cabinet ministers to appear before its committees.


Erdogan's extended powers:

If the voting is in the favour of the constitutional changes, Erdogan, under the new system, will be able to run for two more election cycles. This means that he could potentially continue to be the head of state till 2029, if he wins the 2019 and 2024 elections.

He could also resume the leadership of the Justice and Development party (AKP), which holds an overwhelming majority in the parliament. Erdogan co-founded AKP.

Turkey referendum

What are the arguments being made in favour of constitutional changes?

Erdogan has argued that the new changes will make the Turkish parliamentary system a strong one. He has said that current system is flawed and it often leads to weak coalition governments, which do not succeed in making big, concrete decisions. 

Erdogan, on various occasions, has also pointed out that he is proposing a governing system which will be similar to the United States and France, as both of the countries have an executive president.

The Turkish President says that the proposed changes would make the Turkish government more strong and it would be able to take better decisions to defend the nation against terrorism and internal threats like the Kurdish insurgency and coup plots.

Turkey referendum

What the critics of the changes saying?

Turkey's two main opposition parties, secularist Republican People's party (CHP) and People's Democratic Party (HDP), had voted against the bill when it was introduced in the parliament.

Opponents of the changes say that introduction of a presidential system in the government will leader to a one-man regime headed by Erdogan. They worry that the new system will lead to authoritarianism as the president will have an extended power over both the judiciary and the legislature.

The Turkish President has increasingly grown authoritarian over the years, particularly after last year's failed military coup against him. Those who favour the 'No' vote fear that under the new system, the government's crackdown on dissent will continue.

Turkey referendum

Which side is likely going to win?

Analysts predict a closely-contested race.

Although pollsters in the country have been hesitant to publish their poll findings of the referendum because of a large number of undecided voters, the number show voting will be really close. However, a recent poll has suggested 'Yes' votes stand to gain a narrow majority on Sunday's referendum

Polling firm Konda said the number of 'Yes' voters stood at 51.5 percent, adding the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percent.

"When this forecast is considered within the survey's margin of error, a final judgement might be misleading," Konda said in a statement, according to Reuters.

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