Vote on Erdogan’s power exposes deep schism


Turkey voted in support of a historic referendum by 51.41 to 48.59 that will greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office. Although Erdogan has won, there are question marks that are being raised.
Opposition parties alleged fraud and the European Union branded it as unfair and said they would challenge the results. Top EU officials said they take note of the reported results and were awaiting a report from international election observers. The referendum, which is mired in controversy, will complicate further cooperation between Ankara and the EU.
The result is a remarkable turnaround for Erdogan. His political fortunes began to dwindle in 2013, when anti-government protests rocked the country. It exposed cracks in the popularity of AKP that had helped the party to win consecutive elections since 2003. Within months, Erdogan quashed a corruption probe targeting his government by purging police and judges he accused of being sympathizers of Fethullah Gulen, his former ally and current bête noire.
The vote came as Turkey is facing challenges both inside and outside the country. Erdogan, who survived a failed coup attempt last July, which he has blamed on Gulen, had argued a presidential system would bring stability and prosperity to the country.
Turkey has suffered renewed violence between Kurdish militants and security forces, as well as a string of bombings, some attributed to the IS group, which is active across the border in Syria. On the New-Year Eve, an IS gunman killed 40 people in Istanbul nightclub. Ankara has sent troops into Syria to help prop opposition forces clear a border area from IS threat and to contain Syrian Kurds. Turkey is staggering under the weight of some 3 million refugees crossing into the country.
Now the referendum will ensure constitutional amendments that will abolish the office of the prime minister and hand sweeping executive powers to the president. It will allow the president to appoint ministers, senior government officials and half the members of Turkey’s highest judicial body, as well as to issue decrees and declare states of emergency. It will set a two five-year terms for presidents and also allow the president to remain at the helm of a political party.
Opponents had argued the constitutional changes would give too much power to a man who they say has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies. Opposition parties complained of a number of irregularities in the voting, and were particularly incensed by an electoral board decision announced on Sunday afternoon to accept as valid ballots that did not bear the official stamp. A pro-Kurdish opposition party that also opposed the constitutional changes said it plans to object to two-thirds of the ballots.
The narrow victory has already exposed the deep schism in Turkey. Hundreds of demonstrators marched against the constitutional amendments and vowed that their struggle for a secular and democratic Turkey will continue.The constitutional change will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies traditionally rely. It flies in the face of everything Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern secular nation, stood for.

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