55 mln Turks to vote on presidential system

55 mln Turks to vote on presidential system

55 mln Turks to vote on presidential system

AP photo

Turkey will stage a decisive referendum on April 16 after weeks of tense campaigning by the “yes” and “no” camps regarding an 18-article constitutional amendment that foresees the replacement of the parliamentary system with an executive presidential system that will endow the president with vastly enhanced powers.

Some 55 million Turkish voters are eligible to cast votes on April 16 following a divisive campaign that was launched in October 2016 when the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) announced its support to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) long-anticipated project of replacing the current government system with a presidential system with power concentrated in one hand.

The MHP’s support represented a U-turn from its previous views and came in the wake of the failed July 2016 coup attempt that pushed the nationalist party to endorse the AKP’s plan to ostensibly strengthen the Turkish state against such potential attempts in the future. 

Parliament approved the amendments in late January with 339 votes from the AKP-MHP alliance while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) stood against government system alteration.

If the package is approved, the president will be able to retain ties with the political party he or she belongs to. 

As part of the changes, both the office of the prime minister and the cabinet will be abolished while the president will acquire all executive powers with the authority to issue decrees on the state’s structure as well as its functions. 

The changes also grant authority to the president to issue decrees within the executive jurisdiction, declare a state of emergency and appoint public officials. But presidential decrees will not be permitted on issues concerning human rights or basic freedoms, or to override existing laws.

The president will be able to declare a state of emergency without necessary cabinet approval and to draft the budget, which is currently drawn up by parliament. The changes will allow the president to dissolve the parliament which will trigger the renewal of presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously. 

Package overhauls judicial bodies 

The package also includes articles to overhaul the structures of two key supreme judicial bodies, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). 

The number of members of the HSYK will be cut from 22 to 13 with four of them to be directly appointed by the president and seven of them by parliament, while the justice minister and his or her undersecretary will continue to be a natural member of the council. The Constitutional Court – which will be the venue in which the president could be tried if parliament reaches a two thirds majority for his or her impeachment – will be composed of 15 judges, 12 of whose members will be appointed by the president and three by the parliament. 

Venice Commission critical of draft 

One of the most significant criticisms against the package was voiced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in a report issued last month. Describing the proposed model as a “Turkish-style” presidential system, the report said: “The Venice Commission is of the view that the substance of the proposed constitutional amendments represents a dangerous step backwards in the constitutional democratic tradition of Turkey. The Venice Commission wishes to stress the dangers of degeneration of the proposed system toward an authoritarian and personal regime. In addition, the timing is most unfortunate and is itself cause of concern: the current state of emergency does not provide for the due democratic setting for a constitutional referendum.”

55 million voters

The referendum is expected to attract a high turnout, with 1.2 million young people eligible to vote for the first time.

The Supreme Board of Election has announced that 167,140 ballot boxes will be ready for voters; another 461 boxes have also been set up in prisons.

The election process for Turkish citizens living abroad ended on April 9. Over a million registered citizens voted at 120 foreign missions in 57 countries.

Some 1,326,070 votes have arrived in Turkey and been placed in 903 transparent boxes which are secured at a congress center in Ankara waiting to be counted after the voting process ends in Turkey.

For those who have missed the two-week election period, 120 boxes at 31 customs gates will be open for Turkish citizens living abroad until 5 p.m. on April 16.

Poll safety

The voting process will commence in the east and southeast region one hour earlier than official time and will end one hour later. Due to ongoing clashes between outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish forces, the government is paying special attention to poll safety.

Some 251,788 police officers and 128,455 gendarmeries will be assigned to ensure the safety of the polls. Some 17,000 police and army forces will solely protect power supplies and transmission units as well as critical areas.

In addition to the police and army forces, 51,148 security guards, formerly known as village guards, and 18,675 voluntary security guards in 26 cities have also been assigned for the referendum.

For the safety of the boxes, cameras have been installed at polling places which will be under surveillance from one center via video-conference.