Turkey narrowly accept Constitutional changes granting major powers to Erdogan
Monday, 17 April 2017

- In a narrowly contested referendum, Turkish voters supported the proposal to greatly increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and to abolish the position of a Prime Minister. Erdogan won with 51,5 percent of the vote, or about 25 million voters, and his camp narrowly lost in some of the major cities like Istanbul and Ankara, but relied on strong support from the rural communities.

"For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics. That is why it is very significant", Erdogan said in his remarks after the initial results were announced. He said that he will work quickly with Parliament to re-introduce the death penalty, and if that fails, another referendum may be called. It is expected that the death penalty will be used in cases of treason, such as for the organizers of the failed coup in 2016, or against leaders of the Kurdish rebellion.

Opposition parties indicated that they are encouraged by the results, which gave them effectively half of the votes, and that they consider the referendum tainted by irregularities. The main issue raised by the opposition is the decision by the Electoral Commission to accept hundreds of thousands of ballots that did not carry its stamp. The opposition also complains about lack of media freedom and the overall pressure which was put on the administrative service after the failed coup, with hundreds of thousands being fired and thousands arrested. Kurdish opposition also complained that the emergency rule made it impossible for their voters to oppose the constitutional changes in the referendum.

New constitutional amendments give Erdogan the power to appoint the cabinet and a number of vice-presidents. He will be able to appoint and remove senior administrative officials without going through Parliament. Most of the changes come into effect after the next elections, scheduled for 2019, even though holding early elections would not be out of the question.

The European Union did not offer congratulations to Erdogan, and warned that it will follow further developments closely, especially calling the proposal to re-introduce the death penalty "a red line" which would mean that Turkey loses any chance of future EU accession.

"We take note of the reported results of the referendum in Turkey on the amendments to the Constitution, adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 21 January 2017. We are awaiting the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission, also with regard to alleged irregularities. The constitutional amendments, and especially their practical implementation, will be assessed in light of Turkey's obligations as a European Union candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe", European officials Juncker, Mogherini and Hahn said in a joint statement.