A polling station opened today at the embassy of Turkey in Sarajevo where the Turkish nationals in Bosnia can vote in a referendum on constitutional reform in Turkey. The referendum in that country will be held next week. Dubbed in the media one of the most important referendums in the modern history of Turkey, the popular poll asks the country’s citizens whether they support a set of constitutional changes that would significantly expand the presidential powers.
Turkey currently has a parliamentary-based political system, where the prime minister is the head of the government and the head of state but has limited political powers. The proposed changes would give Turkey an executive presidency; the president becomes the head of the government and the role of prime minister is scrapped. If the reform pushed by the ruling AK Party is approved, the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will be able to extend him mandate by 2029.
Proposals for constitutional reform were initially announced by the AK Party following their victory in the 2011 general election, but were pushed back after the all-party parliamentary constitutional committee were unable to reach a consensus. Following the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as President in 2014, proposals for constitutional reform and an executive presidency gained strength and were key AKP policy proposals in both the June 2015 general election and the November 2015 snap general election. On 24 May 2016, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was succeeded by Binali Yıldırım, with the former having resigned allegedly due to disagreements with Erdoğan regarding constitutional change that would reduce the powers or eliminate the Office of the Prime Minister. In October 2015, the MHP party, which have historically been opposed to an executive presidency, called on the government to bring forward their proposals to Parliament, with party leader Devlet Bahçeli announcing that he would cooperate in the drafting process. The AK Party and MHP reached an agreement regarding a proposed new constitution on 8 December after a month of negotiations, beginning the parliamentary process of initiating a referendum on the proposals.
On 20 January, Parliament voted to put forward the proposed amendments to a referendum with 339 votes in favor, surpassing the required three-fifths majority of 330 votes. The main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, declared that they would seek to annul the parliamentary vote through the Constitutional Court, citing irregularities such as open voting and intimidation of MPs during the voting process.
President Erdoğan declared the referendum date as 16 April, 2017.