Turkish president approves constitutional change bill, referendum expected on April 16

Turkish constitutional referendum comes amid media crackdown

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved holding a national referendum on constitutional reforms that would usher in a powerful presidency.

Erdogan says the reforms will provide stability and prevent a return to fragile parliamentary coalitions of the past.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that a referendum is likely to be held on April 16. Simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections for a five-year term would be held in November 2019 under the new constitution.

"People will have the final say", Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in comments carried by the Anadolu news agency, announcing that the referendum would take place on April 16.

Turkey's parliament approved the reform package in contentious and sometimes violently debated sessions last month.

Under the proposed far-reaching changes to the executive branch of government, the power to appoint and dismiss government ministers would become the purview of the president rather than the prime minister.

Erdogan approved the legislation six months after an attempted coup against him by a rogue military faction in July past year.

However, opponents of the presidential system have also warned that the state of emergency imposed since the coup attempt, combined with continuing violence in the southeast and the arrest of opposition politicians, will make the environment for the "No" vote campaigners unsafe and unfair. The president-elect will not be obliged to be a non-party nominee any more. "I hope that this election campaign will continue in line with the mature democracy of Turkey", he said.

"Not because, as Erdogan says, the terrorists are trying to terrorise the country, but because Erdogan and others are leaving no other avenue but violence for people to express their opposition".

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