Apr 17, 2017

How Turkey got to its disputed constitutional referendum

Yasin Bulbul / Presidential Press Service via AP

Turkey seems to have voted yesterday to greatly expand the powers of President Recep Erdogan, choosing to add 18 amendments to its constitution, which in part:

  • Abolish the role of prime minister in favor of a vice president
  • Grant the president unilateral power to dismiss parliament, appoint ministers and judges, enact laws, and declare a state of emergency
  • Reset Erdogan's term limits, allowing him to potentially stay in office until 2029

It's worth asking: As the opposition moves to challenge a huge portion of the vote share and international monitors question the result, how did Turkey get to this point in the first place?

  • 1980: Turkey's current constitution, written following a military coup, envisions the presidency as a less powerful and non-partisan secular role.
  • 2007: The country approves a constitutional referendum that allows the president to be directly elected. Previously, presidents had been elected by parliament.
  • 2014: Erdogan becomes the first directly elected president and quickly moves to consolidate his power, usurping independence from the courts and instigating a crackdown on the free press.
  • 2016: A failed coup causes Erdogan to implement a nationwide state of emergency that still remains in place while numerous terrorist attacks, particularly those at an Istanbul nightclub frequented by foreigners and Istanbul's international airport, further heighten tensions.
  • Early 2017: The government presents the complicated constitutional reforms — 18 amendments in total — and the resultant strengthening of the presidency as necessary to create a more efficient government.
  • March-April 2017: Erdogan's push to hold the referendum in a fraught security environment, cracking down on dissenting voices and campaigning on a pro-security platform during a state of emergency, likely nudges some undecideds toward a vote for 'yes.'
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