Campaigning for Turkey referendum hits final stretch

Both the CHP and the HDP previously agreed in talks with Erdogan on the need for constitutional changes to the Turkish state, in which HDP proposed a presidential and federalist system. No question is written on the ballot paper and it is assumed that the people know what they are voting for. Turkey is heading to a contentious April 16 referendum.

Erdogan said the proposed reforms could help counter a series of threats, including a failed military coup a year ago and a string of deadly bombings, some attributed to the Islamic State group.

Out of the previous six referendums that Turkey has held since 1961, three have been on new constitutions, which were voted on in 1961, 1982 and 2010.

For supporters, change will bring much-needed stability. Turkey, a country of some 80 million that connects Europe with Asia and a critical US ally in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, borders some of the world's most unstable places, starting with Syria and Iraq. In the latest issue of its Al-Naba magazine, IS called for attacks on polling stations in Turkey.

Even so, if Turkey's politicians over the decades have often chose to play zero-sum games domestically where compromise is not an option, the Turkish public has nearly always voted in favour of moderation.

Mr Erdogan's tenure as prime minister and president since 2003 has starkly polarised Turkey's hugely diverse society.

The amendments were approved by parliament in January, but fell short of the majority required to directly come into effect without a national vote.

The president would be able to remain a member of a political party or even lead it - ending the tradition of presidential impartiality.

The current setup requires the president to be nonpartisan. The new system could allow Erdogan to run for two more terms, potentially stretching his rule to 2029. But gradually, laws were changed to make it easier for the ruling party to, for instance, make judicial appointments and enrich pro-government businesses with state contracts.

The draft states that the next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on November 3, 2019. A rejection of Erdogan's proposed constitutional amendments would keep alive the prospect that once this president is no longer in office, Turkey can finally have a shot at curbing the power of its rulers and, perhaps someday, making way for representative, inclusive democracy. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, asked supporters in the capital, Ankara.

Erdogan and government officials are accused of using state resources and official functions such as openings of infrastructure projects to campaign in favor of the changes.

The report also said that the freedom of expression had been further restricted by the closure of numerous media outlets and the arrest of a large number of journalists in the wake of the failed coup. He also appealed to voters of other parties to approve the changes so "Turkey can leap into the future". That followed Erdogan issuing a legal decree under emergency powers that have been in force since July's coup, abolishing the legal requirement for fair coverage by media companies.

Turkey has suffered from a series of violent attacks and bombings since 2015, linked to the resumption of conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast and increased activity of foreign and local Islamic State group cells in Turkey.

Analysts regard the referendum as a turning point in the modern history of the country that will affect not just the shape of its political system but also its relations with the West.

  • Leroy Wright