Sunday, April 16, 2017

Polls Open In Turkey's Historic Referendum

Polls open in Turkey's historic referendum on reforms

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.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim cast his vote in the western province of Izmir, saying the outcome of the referendum is for the nation to decide.
Speaking to reporters outside the polling station after casting his vote, he said: “Whatever the result is, we will hold it in high esteem. The decision of our nation is the most beautiful decision.”
Polls in eastern Turkey opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and are to close at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT), while those in the more populous west were opening and closing an hour later. More than 55 million people in this country of about 80 million are registered to vote.
People were already lined up at an Istanbul polling station before it opened.
“We are here early to say ‘no’ for our country, for our children and grandchildren,” said retired tax officer Murtaza Ali Turgut. His wife Zeynep agreed, saying: “I was going to come sleep here last night to vote at first light.”
Another “no” voter, Husnu Yahsi, said: “I don’t want to get on a bus with no brake system. A one-man system is like that.”
In another Istanbul neighborhood, a “yes” voter expressed full support of Erdogan. “Yes, yes, yes. Our leader is the gift of God to us. We will always support him. He’s governing so well,” Mualla Sengul said.
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.

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