Spotlight: Turkey votes in constitutional referendum

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-16 16:26:07|Editor: ZD
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A woman recieves her ballot at a polling station in Ankara, Turkey, on April 16, 2017. More than 167,000 polling stations across Turkey opened at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) on Sunday for a referendum on expanding presidential powers. (Xinhua/Qin Yanyang)

ANKARA, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Turkish people are going to polling stations on Sunday to vote for "Yes" or "No" on a 18-article constitutional amendment that will shift Turkey's administrative system to executive presidency.

The referendum is to decide whether to abolish the office of the prime minister and hand all executive power to the president, in the meanwhile weaken the parliament's role.

The voting started at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and will end at 4 p.m.(1300 GMT).

Pollsters expect a high turnout among some 55 million eligible voters. Last week, many polls indicated a neck-and-neck race among nay and yea.

Turkey's Supreme Board of Election announced that 167,140 boxes are ready for the referendum with 461 of them installed in prisons.

Overseas Turkish people had till April 9 to cast their votes, with more than 1 million registered to have voted in 57 countries. Besides that, a total of 120 boxes placed at 31 customs gates will open on Sunday to those who have missed the two-week voting period.

Some 251,800 policemen and 128,455 gendarmerie members are deployed to secure the voting, while 17,000 security forces are safeguarding critical locations such as power supplies and transmission units.

The country goes to referendum under a state of emergency declared after a failed coup attempt in July and extended several times.

In October, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) raised the issue of presidential system that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pursuing for years.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the MHP alliance enabled related constitutional amendments to pass the parliament with 339 votes.

The amendments have been criticized by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the People's Democratic Party (HDP) for breaking the principle of separation of powers in the parliamentary democracy, while the ruling party defends it, citing inefficiency of the existing administrative system.

Opponents argue that Erdogan, who has been in power as prime minister or president for 14 years, is becoming increasingly autocratic. They believe that the move will simply cement his hold on power in a "Turkish style" presidential system, which will have few checks and balances.

In addition, the AKP and MHP stress that the current constitution is not efficient enough to meet the economic and executive needs of the country.

Should the constitutional amendment pass the referendum, a new administrative system would take effect after the elections in 2019 when Erdogan's current term ends.

The changes are expected to enable a re-elected Erdogan to head the ruling AKP while serving as the president, and make high-level appointments including members of Turkey's top judicial body without the parliament's approval.