Polling stations for Turkey’s historic referendum opened Sunday, when voters are set to decide on the future of their country: Whether to approve or reject reforms that would concentrate power in the hands of the president.
If the “yes” vote prevails, the 18 constitutional changes will convert Turkey’s system of government from parliamentary to presidential, abolish the office of the prime minister and grant extensive executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan, who called the referendum and has championed the “yes” campaign, says the proposed “Turkish style” presidential system will ensure the country no longer risks having weak governments, and insists the stability will lead to a long period of prosperity. But opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring that Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.
If approved in the referendum, the proposed changes will grant the president the power to appoint ministers and senior government officials, appoint half the members in Turkey’s highest judicial body, issue decrees and declare states of emergency. It sets a limit of two five-year terms for presidents. The changes would come into effect with the next general elections, scheduled for 2019.
The campaign has been highly divisive and heavily one-sided, with the “yes” side dominating the airwaves and billboards across the country. Supporters of the “no” vote have complained of an atmosphere of intimidation, with the main opposition party recording more than 100 incidents of obstruction to its campaign efforts, including beatings, detentions and threats.