Tabnak – After months of hot debates and challenging events, Turkey today is witnessing a referendum to expand the powers of the president. As the Turkish people are casting their "yes” or "no” ballots, observers believe that the referendum is a matter of political future for President Erdogan.
If the "yes” votes prevail, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be granted sweeping new powers. Erdogan is seeking to replace Turkey's parliamentary system with an executive presidency.
Erdogan’s supporters say the move would streamline and modernize the country, but opponents fear it could lead to greater authoritarianism. In its report of the referendum, BBC notes that a "Yes" vote could also see Erdogan remain in office until 2029.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, opinion polls have given a narrow lead for a "yes" vote. Some 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,140 polling stations which opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in the east and 8 a.m. in the rest of Turkey. Voting ends at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). Turkish voters abroad have already cast their ballots.
Its domestic implications aside, the outcome will also shape Turkey's strained relations with the European Union. The NATO member state has curbed the flow of migrants - mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq - into the bloc but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.
Casting his vote in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan evoked the revered founder of modern Turkey. "This referendum is no ordinary vote ... We are realizing the dream of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to make Turkey a more civilized country."
On the other hand, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party and campaigner for a "no” vote in the referendum on constitutional amendments, cast his ballot in the capital Ankara.
"We are voting for Turkey’s fate today,” Washington Post quoted Kilicdaroglu as saying, adding that "we hope the results will be good and together we can have the opportunity to discuss Turkey’s other fundamental problems.”
It should be noted that the referendum is being held under the state of emergency that was declared after a failed military coup in July 2016, and has been followed by Erdogan taking extraordinary action in using his current powers to arrest about 50,000 people, and remove at least 100,000 from their jobs in a crackdown that has gone far beyond people directly involved in the coup.
The fear is that the powerful presidency that Erdogan is seeking would create even more opportunities for him to reinforce his personal power at the top of the pyramid, and pervert the machinery of the state to allow him wide latitude to favor his friends and allies, and destroy those whom he does not like.
After serving as Prime Minster for more a decade, Erodgan became President in 2014. By little more than force of personality, he turned a largely ceremonial post into a vehicle of significant power. He has initiated a widespread crackdown on opposition, which intensified after last year's botched coup, for which he blamed US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.