A referendum in Turkey for a new constitution narrowly won approval Sunday amid widespread criticism from opposition groups and foreign leaders that the new government outline inches the country closer to a dictatorship.
The measure passed with 51.2 percent of the vote, with 85 percent of Turkey’s eligible voters participating in the election.
Celebrating the passage of the referendum, current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday: “All debate regarding the constitution is over. It’s clear what side the national will — our foundation — is on.”
Under the new principles of the constitution, Turkey’s president is granted broad governing powers.
Included in the new package of amendments to Turkey’s constitution: Vast presidential power to appoint ranking judges to the court system; authority over all branches of government including the military; dissolution of the prime minister post with premiership responsibility assumed by the president; and an extension of presidential terms to three, totaling 15 years.
The referendum gives the president power to appoint judges and other government posts without the consent of parliament.
Similarly, new powers granted give Erdogan the right to appoint vice presidents without parliamentary consent, enable the president to rule by decree on a majority of issues unless overridden by parliament and the prerogative to dissolve parliament at any time.
The new rules also rewrite conditions in which the president can be removed from power. In the new canon, the grounds for the president’s removal expand; however, the method is altered and parliament’s role is weakened.
Fearing the new constitution will move Turkey close to authoritarianism, opponents of the measure vowed legal action amid widespread accusations of vote fraud. Rival political party, People’s Republican Party, vowed to take the election irregularities to the European Court of Human Rights if needed.
At the top of their list of criticisms of the election are unstamped ballots, which prevent accurate records of votes and the allegation as many as 2.5 million votes were fraudulent.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, expressed concern over late changes to the vote in which counting procedures were changed. Monitors say the modifications violated Turkish election law.
Moreover, ahead of the election, critics charged Erdogan relentlessly targeted opponents of the plebiscite; 117 outspoken opponents of the new constitution in the months prior to Sunday’s vote.
In his first public remarks since the vote, President Erdogan told CNN that the constitutional reforms do not make him a dictator. “I am a mortal really, I could die at any time,” he said.
“The system represents a change, a transformation in the democratic history of Turkey,” Erdogan continued.
The election is likely to be certified in 10 days.
[Reuters] [RT News] [Wall Street Journal] [CNN] [Photo courtesy AP via Washington Times]