In a referendum held on April 16th voters narrowly approved a set of constitutional changes that will begin Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system. According to preliminary results, just over 51% voted in favour of the proposed changes. Turnout was high at 86%, but opponents of the reform allege that there was widespread voter fraud, from ballot tampering by individuals close to the “yes” camp to institutional contravention of established electoral procedures by the Supreme Election Council (YSK).
Some of the reforms will take effect immediately—such as provisions allowing the president to belong to a political party and restructure the judiciary—but the bulk of the 18 constitutional amendments will come into force after the next presidential and parliamentary elections, which are due to take place in late 2019. In the meantime, parliament will be called on to pass enabling legislation in preparation for the implementation of the constitutional changes.
Shortly after the vote count began, complaints emerged from ballot box monitors that there were mass sightings of “unofficial ballots”, which did not have the YSK’s official stamp. Controversially, the YSK immediately declared these ballots “valid unless proven otherwise”. Prior to the official results being announced, both the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, and the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, publicly declared victory and Mr Erdogan insisted that the result should be recognised by all, particularly Turkey’s foreign allies and partners. However, according to Council of Europe observers, the referendum fell short of standards set by the European body. They referred in particular to the vote’s “inadequate legal framework”.
With the country increasingly polarised, the narrow victory amid widespread allegations of vote fraud undermine the legitimacy of Mr Erdogan’s mandate for such a fundamental change in the system of government. Following the vote, Mr Erdogan released a communiqué stating that he would immediately consult with Mr Yildirim on the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty, a populist move that would appeal to nationalist voters. Such a measure would irreparably harm Turkey’s EU accession bid. The government confirmed that emergency rule, which was imposed after the attempted coup in July 2016, would be extended for another three months to late July.
Impact on the forecast
The referendum result was in line with our forecast of a narrow majority in favour of the changes. The outcome and the allegations of vote fraud support our forecast that a rapid return to political stability is unlikely.