Turkish PM says referendum on constitutional amendments to be held in early April

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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim gestures as he delivers a speech during the 115th enlarged meeting of provincial chairmen of Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the AK Party's headquarters in Ankara, on January 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Wednesday that Turkey will hold a referendum in early April on constitutional amendments that were recently approved by Parliament and will open the way to a switch from a parliamentary system of governance to an executive presidency.

Speaking during a meeting with Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial chairmen in Ankara on Wednesday, Yıldırım said the referendum could be held in the first half of April if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan approves the amendment package.

According to the constitution, the referendum must be held on the first Sunday that falls 60 days after a notification is published in the Official Gazette following the president’s approval. If Erdoğan approves the amendments immediately after returning from a trip to Africa, the likeliest date for the referendum will be April 2.

There has been strong opposition to the constitutional amendments over fears of one-man rule in Turkey as it grants extended powers to the president, and Parliament has recently been the scene of altercations between AKP and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies.

During debates on articles of the package in the last two weeks, deliberations on the proposed amendments have given way to brawls among parliamentarians as the constitutional amendment package, which expands the president’s power significantly and brings an executive presidential system to the country, is highly controversial.

With the proposed changes submitted to Parliament by the ruling AKP and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the president will also be vested with the power to dissolve Parliament.

Rejecting opposition claims that the referendum may lead  lead to the end of democracy in Turkey, Yıldırım said the proposed new system would strengthen Turkey politically and economically and increase its international influence.

Underlining that Erdoğan’s strong leadership had boosted Turkey’s regional profile, Yıldırım said, “While Turkey was excluded from Syria negotiations a year ago, now the country sits in a leading position.”

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