The Turkey Referendum

Luis Bärwalde, Foreign Reporter

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Should the constitution give the president more power? The people of Turkey decided on this question on April 16th. The reform gives the president more power over the judiciary. The plans for the change of the constitution came from the  justice and development party, the AKP, but it was also admitted by extreme right party, the MHP, which both promoted the “Evet” side (Turkish for Yes). The “Yes” side arguments that the change is necessary to stabilize the nation and a stronger executive would “bring about an end to unstable coalition governments”.


The opposition for the constitutional change were represented by the the Republican People’s party, the CHP, and the minority of the Kurds which led the “Hayir” side, that means No. They argue that the change would give the executive too much power, and “it would be suicide for the democracy”. The referendum has to happen because the requesting side failed to get a three-fifth majority. For the referendum the “Yes” side has to get only a simple majority.


The “Evet” campaign received much criticism by other European countries because Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, and his cabinet were completing large parts of their campaign in many other countries, like Germany. They organized stadiums with around 5,000 seats to promote their campaign, but those events needed a big amount of police officers to keep both sides, the “Evet”, and the “Hayir”, away from each other; without the police force to control the scene there would have been riots instead of a campaign. The problem is that those police officers are paid by the German taxpayer, and many people from Germany do not agree with paying for the campaign of a foreign government, especially when they do not agree because Turkey is becoming more and more an autocratic state almost a dictatorship. Many people of the opposition were arrested because they lifted up their voice against Erdoğan, or against the referendum. Also the freedom of press only exists on paper in Turkey. Journalists get arrested for being critical about the government and they started to censor social media networks like Twitter. This all can happen in a democracy because Turkey is, since July 2016, under a state of Emergency after a failed military coup attempt. The problem with the coup attempt is that many people think that the coup was organized by Erdoğan and his government, but for those allegations there is no proof.


The netherlands are another country that protested against the campaign for “Evet”. The Turkish minister of foreign affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the minister of family and social policies  Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya got barred from landing by the Dutch Air Force. This event led in a diplomatic crisis between both countries in which the Turkish President Erdoğan called the Dutch people “fascist and remnants of Nazism”  and accused the Netherlands of “massacring” Muslims in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War in 1995. The Dutch prime minister called Erdoğan’s remarks consequently “unacceptable” and a “vile falsification of history”. The opposition had also an unfair disadvantage because they couldn’t use any state facilities or funding while the “Yes” campaign was allowed to use both.


The day of the referendum

On the 16th of April the Turkish people in Turkey and other European States voted “Evet” or “Hayir” for the constitution change. Everyone expected a clear win of the “Evet” side, the yes for the change. But it came different, the official result was that 51.4% voted for yes and 48.8% for no. That means the constitution is going to change but the result was really close.


Immediate changes

The Supreme Court is going to be reduced from 23 to 13 members and the president is nominating four of them directly. Two military judges get banned from the constitution court and the president does not have to be party neutral anymore. Additionally the country will stay for three more months in a State of Emergency. The other 15 constitution changes won’t be included until 2019.


The OSCE, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, criticized the election process really sharp. In one of their statements they criticized the “not providing of necessary information about the key aspects of the reform”. Another statement was “The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters” (Tana de Zulueta, Head of the ODIHR limited election observation mission).

The opposition is urging to a annulate the result after rumors came up that about 2.5 million votes could be manipulated because the difference between both sides are only about 1.38 million votes so the result could be also won by the other side.


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The Turkey Referendum