Turkey will hold a referendum on constitution changes

Turkey will hold a referendum on whether to greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

The country’s parliament yesterday approved a contentious constitutional reform package that paves the way for the vote.

The decision marks a victory for Erdogan, a divisive but overall popular figure, who critics view as increasingly autocratic.

In an all-night session that ended early yesterday, politicians voted in favour of a set of amendments presented by the ruling party, founded by Erdogan.

The reform bill cleared the minimum threshold necessary to put the measures to a national referendum for final approval.

The vote took place with 488 parliamentarians in the 550-seat assembly in attendance, and 339 voted yes, 142 no, five cast empty ballots and two were ruled out as invalid.

Prime minister Binali Yildirim celebrated the result, saying the decision was now in the hands of the Turkish people, who would make the right choice.

“Don’t you ever doubt that the people will most certainly make the best decision regarding the constitutional reforms,” he said.

“Our people will head to the polls, will vote with their hearts and minds and make the best choice for Turkey.”

A public vote on the issue is expected as early as 26 March, and no later than mid-April, according to officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Opposition parties see the changes as a bid to cement the powers of Erdogan, who has established a de-facto presidential system since coming into the office in 2014.

Some complained that restrictions on the press and intense pressure to toe the line had left no space for them to air their views.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the opposition Republican People’s Party, condemned the outcome, saying parliament had “handed over its own authority” and “betrayed” its history.

He vowed to lead a “struggle for democracy” to have the reforms rejected.

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