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Overseas Voting in Turkish Referendum Begins

By Mushvig Mehdiyev March 27, 2017

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A pro-Erdogan supporter holds a Turkish national flag during a rally at Taksim Square in Istanbul on July 18, 2016 / Aris Messinis / AFP Photo

Turkish citizens living in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and Denmark began to vote on Monday in a referendum that will decide whether or not Turkey’s constitution will be heavily amended. Expatriate voting will last until April 9 and will involve about 3 million Turkish citizens living in 57 countries.

Over 55 million eligible Turkish voters living in Turkey are expected to cast their “yes” or “no” vote on April 16.

If a simple majority, or 51 percent, vote “yes” the way will be cleared for Turkey’s unicameral parliament to pass 18 amendments that involve changes across Turkey’s governing and judicial systems.

The most significant change will be turning the country into a presidential republic, similar to the system used in the United States. With the post of prime minister abolished, the president will become head of state as well as head of government, wielding executive authority over all federal agencies. The number of seats in the Grand National Assembly, or parliament, will increase from 550 to 600, and the age required to stand in parliamentary elections will be lowered from age 25 to 18.

Polls opened Monday in Istanbul’s Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen as well, where the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey placed 12 ballot boxes.

Since parliament approved the slate of amendments in January, political discussions have been simmering inside and outside Turkey, dividing political forces into supporters for and critics of the proposed changes. 

Referendum backers say the amendments will pave the way for strong leadership and stability in Turkey, while critics claim that they will create one-man rule, sweeping a system of checks and balances under the carpet.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Mehmet Ucum, the principal judicial consultant to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ruled out concerns over the system of checks and balances, saying the amendments will make it “stronger.”

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) are leading the opposition to the changes. In his address on March 22, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on the people “to understand what they are voting for and why.”