© AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at the EU after some member states blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies ahead of the April 16 referendum on expanding the president’s powers
- Turks will vote on Sunday on whether to give President Erdogan extra powers
- The parliamentary democracy could be replaced by an executive presidency
- Opinion polls show the public are almost evenly split over the controversial plan
- One poll said 51.5 per cent are in favour with a margin of error of 2.4 per cent
© AFP/File | Turkey is to vote on granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanded powers in a landmark referendum on a new constitution
A narrow majority of Turks will vote ‘Yes’ in Sunday’s referendum on changing the constitution to grant President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers, two opinion polls showed.
The April 16 vote will decide on the biggest change in Turkey’s system of governance since the modern republic’s foundation almost a century ago, potentially replacing its parliamentary system with an executive presidency.
Polling company Konda said the number of ‘yes’ voters stood at 51.5 per cent, but said its survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 per cent.
A small majority of Turks are set to give Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new presidential powers during a referendum this weekend to shift the balance of power away from parliament
A poll found 51.5 per cent of people wanted to grant Erdogan the new sweeping powers
‘When this forecast is considered within the survey´s margin of error, a final judgement might be misleading,’ Konda said in a statement.
Its survey, carried out face-to-face with 3,462 people in 30 provinces on April 7-9, showed turnout for the vote would be around 90 per cent. It said the level of undecided voters had fallen to 9 percent from more than 20 per cent in January and there was no evidence to indicate their preference..
The survey by pollster Gezici put support for the constitutional change at 51.3 percent, with ‘no’ votes at 48.7 percent after the distribution of undecided voters.
The poll was carried out face-to-face with some 1,400 people in 10 provinces on April 8-9. In its previous survey a week earlier it put the ‘yes’ vote at 53.3 per cent.
Gezici said many people did not want to express their views during the poll’s fieldwork. It put the level of undecided voters at 9.9 percent.
‘One of the basic problems with the work during the referendum process was the evident increase in the level of people’s concern about expressing themselves,’ Gezici said in its analysis of the results.
Two other surveys on Wednesday showed the ‘yes’ vote on 51-52 per cent. The mean average of nine polls collated by Reuters puts the ‘yes’ vote on 50.9 per cent
The referendum campaign has damaged Turkey’s ties with some European allies. Erdogan has described the banning on security grounds of some rallies by Turkish ministers in the Netherlands and Germany as ‘Nazi-like’ tactics.
Erdogan has campaigned strongly for a yes vote claiming it would eradicate weak government
Voting for Turks living abroad finished on Sunday and Erdogan said this week that those overseas had turned out in greater numbers, a development that pollsters say could benefit him.
Erdogan, who has fronted the campaign for a ‘yes’ vote, says the proposed ‘Turkish style’ presidential system will banish weak governments, establish an efficient state and bring prosperity to the country.
A ‘yes’ vote would allow a set of 18 constitutional reforms that grants the president the power to appoint government ministers and senior officials, appoint half of the members in the country’s highest judicial body, declare states of emergency and issue decrees.
Critics argue that will allow Erdogan – who has been in power either as prime minister or president since 2003 – to rule at least until 2029 with few checks and balances in a system where the separation of powers will be less clear-cut.
‘The 18 articles foresee a very loose separation of powers,’ said Ahmet Kasim Han, an associate professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. That ‘unduly invests the weight of the decisions and the power of the executive on the president,’ he said.
Until Erdogan became president the role was seen mainly as a ceremonial post
The referendum comes amid troubled times for Turkey, which has been plagued by a string of bombings, renewed violence between the government forces and Kurdish rebels and a failed coup attempt in July that resulted in a state of emergency that remains in place.
The emergency powers have permitted a widespread government crackdown that has targeted the followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen – whom Turkey blames for the coup – and other government opponents. Some 100,000 people – including judges and teachers – have been dismissed, and more than 40,000 people, including journalists and opposition pro-Kurdish legislators, have been arrested. Hundreds of news outlets and non-governmental organizations have been shut down.
The country is also dealing with the war in neighboring Syria which led to an influx of some three million refugees. Turkey has sent troops into Syria to help opposition Syrian forces clear a border area from the threat posed ISIS.
Meanwhile, Turkey is drifting further apart from Europe, following Erdogan’s recent outbursts slamming the governments in the Netherlands and Germany as ‘Nazis’ over their restrictions on Turkish ministers’ attempts to court Turkish expatriate votes.
For Erdogan, 63, a presidential system has been a long-time dream.
A prime minister for 11 years since 2003, he was elected president in 2014 for a five-year term and took a far more active role in politics than his predecessors, ruling behind the scenes despite the current constitution that requires him to be neutral.
Erdogan argues that as Turkey’s first president to be directly elected by the people – instead of the parliament – he has a wider mandate than previous presidents.
If approved, the reforms would in effect legalize his de facto rule.
The amendments were approved by parliament in January, but fell short of the majority required to directly come into effect without a national vote.
Erdogan remains popular in Turkey’s conservative and religious heartlands, where he is seen as a strong leader who stands up against Europe, terror threats and coup-plotters. Many believe he has improved services and health care, and given a voice to pious Muslims who at times felt marginalized by more secular governments.
He has crisscrossed the country to hold mass rallies and led an often abrasive and divisive campaign, accusing his opponents of siding with ‘terrorists.’
In rally after rally, he has argued that the new system will end periods of unstable governments and coalitions, prevent coups similar to last summer’s failed attempt, and stop the system of dual leadership between the prime and the president.
‘If only we could have instituted these changes years ago,’ he said during a campaign speech this week. ‘We have paid dearly for these delays.’
The opposition has complained about an unfair campaign process, with Erdogan and the ‘yes’ propaganda dominating air waves and billboards using state resources. The main opposition party has recorded more than 100 incidents of obstruction to their campaign efforts, including threats, beatings and arbitrary detentions.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will be observing the referendum, noted in a report last week that the vote is taking place under the state of emergency under which ‘fundamental freedoms have been curtailed and thousands of citizens have been detained or dismissed, including civil servants, judges, journalists and opposition party members.’
It also noted that supporters of the ‘no’ campaign have faced ‘bans, police interventions, and violent scuffles at their events.’
If approved in the referendum, the reforms would come into effect with the next general elections slated for 2019.
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