ISTANBUL: 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.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that military helicopters flew ballots and elections officers to some districts of Diyarbakır due to security reasons.
If approved in the referendum, the proposed changes will grant the president the power to appoint ministers and senior government officials, appoint half the members in Turkey’s highest judicial body, issue decrees and declare states of emergency. It sets a limit of two five-year terms for presidents. The changes would come into effect with the next general elections, scheduled for 2019.__Hurriyet