17th May 2022

Turks head to polls for constitutionl reform vote

  • Four Turkish governments have been overthrown by the military since 1960 (Photo: zz77)

Turkish voters head to the polls on Sunday (12 September) to vote on a constitutional reform package in a referendum that is being seen as an important test of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP).

Taking place on the 30th anniversary of the country's last military coup, the referendum covers proposals that would see more judges appointed to the constitutional court and allow the parliament to elect more of them.

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The reforms would also, in a move aimed at limiting the considerable power the army has in the country, permit military officers to be tried in civilian courts for crimes against the state and lift an article forbidding the prosecution of generals involved in the 1980 coup.

A recent survey suggested that 56.2 percent of the electorate will vote Yes, while 43.8 percent will vote No.

A Yes vote would give the AKP, rooted in political Islam, a major boost ahead of general elections next year when it will seek a third consecutive term in power.

Mr Erdogan says the reforms - criticised by human rights groups for not going further on the protection of free speech, religious freedom and ethnic identity - are simply what is required to meet EU membership criteria. The country officially became an EU candidate in 2005.

However, opponents accuse him and his party of trying to get control of all aspects of state, with the military seeing itself as the guarantor of a secular state.

Mr Erdogan and his party has had run-ins with aspects of the state in the past. The country's constitutional courts, which also see themselves as guardians of Turkey's secularism, blocked an initiative by the AKP in 2008 to lift a ban on wearing headscarves in universities.

The AKP has being trying to reform the constitution - drawn up by the military after the 1980 coup - for several years, arguing that it is too nationalist and rigid.

The bitter referendum campaign has seen Mr Erdogan frequently remind voters that Turkey has undergone four military coups since 1960, with the latest still and bloody coup of 30 years ago still raw memory for older voters.

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