17, April 2017
Top European officials have reacted to the recent referendum in Turkey by calling on Ankara to choose its next steps carefully and seek broader consensus in implementing constitutional reforms. Turkey held a referendum on a package of constitutional changes on Sunday. Later in the day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had campaigned heavily for a “Yes” vote, declared victory.
The reforms will change Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one; the office of the prime minister will be abolished; the president will appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, and will be able to select and remove senior civil servants without parliamentary approval.
The changes would also potentially keep Erdogan in power until 2029. He has already been there since 2003. Erdogan said after the voting that 51.5 percent of the voters — 25 million people — had supported the reforms. Yet, almost as many people were opposed to them, meaning that an all-encompassing alteration in Turkish politics would proceed to take effect in spite of opposition from almost half of the electorate.
Pointing to that aspect of the vote, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in a joint statement called “on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus” in the implementation of the reforms. The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, also issued a statement on Sunday, saying that, “In view of the close result, the Turkish leadership should consider the next steps carefully.”
“It is of utmost importance to secure the independence of the judiciary in line with the principle of rule of law enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights,” said the Council’s Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland. He said the Council “stands ready to support the country [Turkey] in this process.”
The European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, also described the reforms as “a major shift away from European values.” “Erdogan’s autocratic behavior has deeply polarized Turkish society and harmed the economy,” she said. The final results of the referendum will be announced in about 10 days after objections have been considered. The Turkish opposition has already challenged the results, saying it would want some 60 percent of the ballots recounted.
Erdogan has called the referendum results “very significant” because, according to him, it was the first time change was being brought about peacefully and not through military coups, a regular feature of decades of Turkish politics. But a population almost evenly divided over the constitutional changes could prove difficult to govern, which would in turn provide a basis for political violence.
Three people were killed in a gunfight between two groups at a school that was being used as polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbaki on Sunday. The shootout erupted after the two groups of relatives started arguing over political disagreements during the voting, reports said. Erdogan himself survived a coup in July last year. He has since been overseeing a crackdown on putschists and their sympathizers. Some 47,000 people have been detained and 120,000 fired or suspended from their jobs in the purge. Turkey has been under a state of emergency since that coup attempt.