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The Turkish Constitutional Referendum: the lead-up and the consequences

Following the Turkish Constitutional Referendum on the 16th of April this year, many questionshave been raised: what will the future of Turkey will look like? What changes are to be made? Who voted yes? Was it fair?

(Photo credits: The Irish Times)

The proposed changes

On the face of it, the referendum was posed as a way to update what seemed like an out-dated constitution; however, lurking underneath, there were arguably plans to make the role of President a much larger one.

A few of the proposed changes are as follows:

  • To remove the role of Prime Minister

  • The President becomes both Head of State and Head of the Executive, whilst retaining ties to their political party

  • The president will be given a host of new powers, including the right to introduce laws by decree, choose senior judges and appoint new ministers

  • The President will also have the power to introduce a state of emergency alone (i.e. without parliament)

  • The president will be limited to two 5 year terms, elections for which will take place on the same day as parliamentary elections

The argument held by the President, Erdogan, was that this would modernise the Turkish system, and make it more effective for tackling the problems Turkey is facing today – notably terrorism. The significant increase in the amount of power that the president would have would arguably make the government more effective, as less time would need to be taken to make decisions.

The campaign

As a non-Turkish resident in Istanbul, it was fascinating to observe a foreign referendum, especially after witnessing the ‘Brexit’ referendum not a year earlier. One of the things that struck me was the disparity between the amount of posters for each side of the campaign – there were a significant amount more ‘YES’ posters than there were ‘NO’ posters. Although this seems like a seemingly small aspect of the referendum, it became clear, especially to me, what a difference exposure to the campaign can have to a voter.

The results

(Source: TRT World's Twitter site)

On the day of the actual referendum, there was a massive turnout of over 80% (to put this in perspective, the turnout for the Brexit referendum was around 70%, whilst the most recent General Election turnout was just under 70%); and overall, the ‘YES’ vote won with 51.3% of the vote. Whilst Turkey’s bigger cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir voted ‘NO’ overall, they could not overcome the ‘YES’ votes from across the majority of the country.

There were definitely questions raised over the authenticity of the vote, and whether the result was entirely fair – these accusations have been batted down, but there remains the question of whether the result was true.

There was a mixed response to the results. From my own window there were cries of protest, with a popular response being to bash kitchen pots together; but there were also shouts of praise to the President, with people chanting his name on the streets.

The question on everyone’s minds now is – what does the future of Turkey look like? Sadly, there is not a simple answer. The people have voted, and the only thing left to do now is wait to see what will unfold.

For more reading on the Turkish Referendum, check out our links on Knowledge Bank (Europe) .


India is half South-African and half English, and currently lives in Istanbul. She has previously lived in London, Houston, Pretoria and Singapore. She is passionate about global issues, and is also very interested in domestic and foreign Turkish affairs. She aims to show people what life is really like in Turkey and to highlight the positive aspects of Turkey that the mainstream media do not tend to focus on.

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