On Turkey's referendum

Sunday, September 12, 2010 

Turkey's much-anticipated referendum on constitutional amendments is taking place today, with exit polling data indicating strong, if unsurprising, support for the "Yes" side.

The proposed amendments (here's an English translation) constitute a number of elements, but the most important thing is that the amendments--which are voted upon as a single package (i.e., no picking and choosing)--would give the current AKP government the ability to pack the constitutional court as well as the state body that appoints state prosecutors and judges. The constitutional court would be expanded from 11 to 17 members, with the (AKP) president and (AKP) parliament being given the opportunity to pick the new six members. The Supreme Court of Prosecutors and Judges (HYSK), meanwhile, would likewise be expanded from 5 members to 22, with the president and parliament again given the job of choosing the new members.

Meanwhile, the amendment package would also make it possible for military officers to be tried in civil, as opposed to military courts.

Much of the package has been presented as anti-military: the very date of the referendum, September 12, is the anniversary of  the (now) generally-reviled most recent military takeover in Turkey in 1980, and the new constitutional amendments will allow for the trial of the leaders of the 1980 coup, a move that was specifically prohibited in the 1982 constitution (authored by the coup leaders themselves and then approved in a referendum) that is still in force in Turkey today.

The "Yes" side of the referendum, supported by the AKP, has used the specter of military intervention, and the AKP government's continued struggles with the military over Ergenekon and other issues, to rally not only AKP supporters to the "Yes," side, but also to win the support of Turkish citizens who are not necessarily AKP supporters but who are strongly opposed to the military's continued role in public affairs in Turkey.

Turkish PM Erdogan
People are voting yes, I think, because they would like to see the military out of politics, not because they think it's a great idea to put the judiciary in the hands of the AKP for the next few decades (constitutional court judges don't have to retire until they're 65). 
By making this referendum about the role of the military in politics in Turkey, rather than about the AKP's power-grab, the AKP has won another battle in its long-lasting campaign against the permanent state in Turkey--the military and judiciary against which the party has struggled since coming to power in 2002.

Continued coverage of the results can be found (in Turkish) at CNN-Turk's website.

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