Why did Turkey hold a referendum?

April 25, 2017

A new draft constitution that significantly increases the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been approved by voters in a referendum. Here, the BBC's Turkey correspondent, Mark Lowen, explains why this was such a bitterly-contested process.

In one brawl, a government MP alleged an opponent bit into his leg. In another, a plant pot was hurled across parliament. A microphone was stolen and used as a weapon. An independent MP handcuffed herself to a lectern, sparking another scuffle. The parliamentary debate on changing Turkey's constitution wasn't a mild affair.

On the surface, it might seem a proposal that would enjoy cross-party consensus: modernising Turkey's constitution that was drawn up at the behest of the once-omnipotent military after the coup of 1980.

But instead it's arguably the most controversial political change in a generation, giving sweeping powers to the country's powerful but divisive President Erdogan.

The plan turns Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. Among the numerous changes:

  • The role of prime minister will be scrapped. The new post of vice president, possibly two or three, will be created.

  • The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party.

  • He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.

  • The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.

  • Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.

  • The number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600.

  • Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on the same day every five years. The president will be limited to two terms.

The government - and, principally, President Erdogan - argue that the reforms streamline decision-making and avoid the unwieldy parliamentary coalitions that have hamstrung Turkey in the past.

Since the president is no longer chosen by parliament but now elected directly by the people, goes the argument, he or she should not have to contend with another elected leader (the prime minister) to enact laws.

The current system, they say, is holding back Turkey's progress. They even argue that the change could somehow end the extremist attacks that have killed more than 500 people in the past 18 months.

 

 

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