Final rallies as Turkey approaches zero hour on referendum

Kelly Massey
April 16, 2017

But the bigger issue is that it would result in sweeping new powers for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan's supporters see his drive for greater powers as the just reward for a leader who has put conservative values back at the core of public life, championed the working classes and delivered airports, hospitals and schools.

Erdogan labeled the actions of some western leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as "fascist" and accused them of behaving like "Nazis" for preventing Turkish government officials from campaigning in favor of the referendum among the Turks living overseas.

Erdogan's party, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is campaigning for a "yes" vote.

Some 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,140 polling stations across the nation, which open at 7.00 am (12.00 midnight ET) in the east of the country and close at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

Allow the president to appoint six of a whittled-down panel of 13 top judges, with others chosen by lawmakers.

Erdogan said he would review Ankara's relationship with Brussels, as he seeks to shore up support for the constitutional changes needed to transfer more power away from parliament to the president.

Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke before Erdogan at a "Yes" rally in the Anatolian city of Konya on Friday but, to the amusement of opposition commentators, failed once to endorse the presidential system.

Assuming the referendum passes, most of the changes it contains won't take effect until the next set of elections, due in 2019.

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Proponents of the reform argue that it would end the current "two-headed system" in which both the president and parliament are directly elected, a situation they argue could lead to deadlock.

The changes would mean that Erdogan could theoretically remain president through 2029, reports US News & World Report.

Another complicating factor is the atmosphere of intimation under which the vote is taking place, in which government rhetoric has branded No voters terrorist supporters and traitors to the nation.

The reforms would increase the number of seats in parliament from the current 550 to 600.

The role of the military is entwined in modern Turkish history but there are fears Turkey could lurch towards authoritarian rule following a crackdown on the power of the armed forces by President Erdogan after last year's pivotal failed coup.

Erdogan and the ruling AK Party, led by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, have enjoyed a disproportionate share of media coverage in the buildup to the vote, overshadowing the secular main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP).

The opposition has complained of a lopsided campaign, with Erdogan using the full resources of the state and the governing party to dominate the airwaves and blanket the country with "yes" campaign posters. Tens of thousands have been jailed, including dozens of journalists, and media outlets have been closed down. About a dozen legislators from Turkey's opposition pro-Kurdish party are also in prison.

Turkey has been hit by a series of attacks in the last 18 months blamed on ISIL and Kurdish militants.

Security will be high for Sunday's vote, with almost 34,000 police deployed in Istanbul alone.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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