Polls Open in Turkey’s Referendum

The first polling stations opened on April 16 in Turkey’s tightly contested referendum that will decide whether the current parliamentary system should be shifted into an executive presidency.

Over 55.3 million Turks are able to vote in the referendum.

If the “yes” vote prevails, the 18 constitutional changes will convert Turkey’s system of government from parliamentary to presidential, abolish the office of the prime minister and grant extensive executive powers to the president.Polling stations opened in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and other cities of eastern Turkey at 7 a.m., while voting in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities nationwide began at 8 a.m.

The “yes” vote is endorsed by President Erdoğan, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the leadership of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were campaigning for a “no” vote.

As the rival sides held rallies up until the last hour of legal campaigning on April 15 to sway undecided voters, Erdoğan said that the ‘yes’ camp had victory in the bag.
But he urged people not to succumb to “lethargy” in voting, saying “the stronger result the better.”

“A ‘yes’ that emerges from the ballot box with the highest margin will be a lesson to the West,” he said in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul.

Erdoğan has warned Brussels that in the event of a “yes” vote he would sign any bill agreed by parliament to reinstate capital punishment, a move that would automatically end its EU bid.

Turkish voters headed to the ballot Sunday morning to determine the future of the country in an historic vote like no other. Nearly one century on since the birth of the new Turkish state, more than 55 million voters are asked whether they want to keep the current parliamentary system, or change it to an executive presidential system with unprecedented powers in the hands of the president.

The vote comes about a year after a failed coup that attempted to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been ruling the country since early 2000s, and under a state of emergency that has been in place since last summer.

The AKP, its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argue that a presidential system works best in the interest of the country’s development and stability.

Their critics however, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), say that the constitutional change could lead to an ever increasing authoritarian regime under the current president.

HDP also say that the new constitution does not include any articles that may improve the lives of the Kurdish population who have for decades campaigned for greater rights, and more than often their demands have been met with an iron fist from the country’s security forces.

The HDP’s charismatic co-chair Selahattin Demirtas and his female counterpart Figen Yuksekdag have been in prison for months, along with more than a dozen HDP MPs and hundreds of party officials.

Yuksekdag has already being convicted in the court for alleged links to a “terrorist” organization, and as such she is barred from voting today. Her counterpart Demirtas though will cast his vote in the prison.