Turkish referendum: what does it all mean?
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With the result up in the air we take a look at the ins and outs of this weekend’s Turkish referendum.
Plans to grant President Erdoğan sweeping new powers will be put to a public vote this Sunday, 16th April, when people across Turkey head to the ballot box for the fifth time in three years in a momentous constitutional referendum.
If the proposed changes are approved by the public, the nation’s political system will shift from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency and Mr Erdoğan will be eligible to remain in office until 2029. A potential outcome that could arguably bring about the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923. So let’s take a look at what all this means exactly.
What are they voting on?
A package of 18 amendments is being put to the people because the proposed changes to the constitution did not get the required backing of two-thirds of MPs in parliament. These amendments include:
• The abolition of the post of prime minister. The president will appoint the cabinet and will have a number of vice-presidents.
• The president will no longer have to be neutral, enabling him to maintain ties to his political party. Under current rules the president is prohibited from having an affiliation with his party once elected.
• The number of MPs will be increased from 550 to 600 and their minimum age lowered to 18.
• The president won’t be protected from being impeached by parliament. Currently he could only be prosecuted by the legislature if he committed treason.
• The abolition of military courts.
• The president will be granted the right to appoint four out of 13 judges to the highest judicial board in the country.
Support for reform
Supporters believe a Yes vote will lead to a “strong Turkey” where the executive will be able to wield power to promote economic development. They want to consign what they consider to be an antiquated constitution drafted under military rule to history. They point to checks and balances included in the proposed system, such as the ability to impeach the president for a broader set of crimes, which they claim are designed to avoid unrestrained powers being placed in one individual’s hands. They see comfort in the stability of ongoing AKP rule.
Politics aside, Erdoğan is viewed by many as a down to earth leader they can relate to. Someone who can empower the working classes and maintain Islamic values.
Opposition to the proposals predominantly revolves around the belief that a presidential system will usher in a one-man regime with Erdoğan at the helm, leading to an increasingly authoritarian regime. Opponents also question the claim that there are sufficient checks and balances in the new proposals, arguing they wouldn’t sufficiently contain the president’s power.
Who’s going to win?
Nobody knows what will happen, so it’s going to go down to the wire, with the polls pointing to a divided electorate. The result may rest on the 10% of voters who say they are still undecided, and the 2.9 million Turkish expats who were given the right to vote from abroad in 2014, since which turnout numbers have rapidly increased with each election.
What does it mean for expats?
Whatever the result of the referendum, the powers that be in Turkey will no doubt continue their concerted efforts to welcome foreign investment, including that from overseas property buyers. Aware of the benefits it brings to the economy the government has already introduced several initiatives this year, designed to attract foreigners to Turkey: the “Turquoise Card” which enables foreign residents to work there indefinitely; the government's golden visa scheme, which offers citizenship to foreign buyers who invest more than $1 million in properties in Turkey; and the abolishment of the 18% VAT of property purchases for overseas buyers.