Erdogan Urges Support in Referendum on Turkey Presidential Power

  • Vote on constitutional changes to take place in April
  • Erdogan courts voters with promise of better healthcare system

A pedestrian looks at his cellphone as he walks past a Turkish national flag in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. Turkish food prices showed the biggest monthly drop seen in September, bringing annual consumer inflation to the lowest level in over a year and giving more leeway to monetary policy makers to cut borrowing costs this month.

Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose the opening of a new hospital to begin the campaign for constitutional changes to bring more power to his office, drawing on past pledges to improve health care to appeal to voters ahead of the upcoming referendum.

“In this hospital, you will remember the feeling of being a human-being and be able to say ‘my state is taking care of me,”’ Erdogan told a crowd gathered in the southern city of Mersin on Friday. “Are we ready to say ‘yes’ at the ballot box in April?”

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Erdogan is seeking to transform the mostly ceremonial post of president into the official nexus of political power in Turkey. While the president and the government say the changes will help to foster growth, critics accuse him of trying to create one-man rule. The country’s five main Kurdish groups, including the HDP and DBP, will vote against the change, the Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on Friday, citing a joint statement.

“This referendum is not a foregone conclusion, both sides have to make a real effort to win,” Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said by phone from Istanbul. The ruling AK Party, despite its proven record in elections, “will have to come up with credible arguments to convince their voter base that this will be a good thing for the future of the country,” he said.

The president will tour 40 provinces, or about half of the country, with the AK Party to persuade skeptical voters that parliament will in fact have stronger oversight under the new system, Ilnur Cevik, a senior adviser to Erdogan, said in an interview on Thursday. An AK Party booklet says the changes would bring a more stable government, a fast and efficient executive branch and a strong government and parliament.

Presidential Rule

While the president will run the country through executive orders, “laws will always be one step ahead of the presidential decrees,” Cevik said, adding that the new system will make the president fully accountable for what he does.

As well as the Kurdish groups, Turkey’s main secular opposition party CHP have said they will vote against the changes, which they say will have insufficient checks and balances once the office of the prime minister is abolished.

The president would directly appoint some top judges on the constitutional court and on another judicial body that oversees judges and prosecutors. While martial law would no longer exist, the president would be able to declare a state of emergency with increased security measures similar to those under martial law.

For critics of the plan, it’s measures such as these that raise the red flag. Even without these formal powers, Erdogan has been able to purge the civil service -- especially since last July’s coup attempt.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim campaigned Friday alongside Erdogan, calling on supporters to “vote ‘yes’ for a safer Turkey, for development, for dams and hospitals.” 

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