On April 16, Turkish voters will be asked to approve controversial reforms that would hand sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish lawmakers have already passed what’s been dubbed the “power bill.”
If Turkish voters follow suit it’ll lead to profound changes in the the way the country’s 80 million people are governed.
The 18-article constitutional reform package – put forward by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – would turn Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, effectively consolidating the power of three legislative bodies into one executive branch with the president as its head.
The reforms would also abolish the role of prime minister while granting authority to the president to issue law, declare states of emergency, dismiss parliament and to appoint ministers, public officials and half of the senior judges. It’s known as the “power bill.”
The bill would also allow Erdogan – who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014 before becoming president – to extend his term in office until at least 2029.
Tensions running high
Parliament can change the constitution directly if the bill gets 367 yes votes – a two-thirds majority – in the 550-seat assembly. But if the bill only gets between 330 and 366 votes, it must be put to the public in a referendum.
On January 21, after three weeks of debate, Turkish lawmakers approved the package with 339 votes, clearing the way for a public vote.
Its path wasn’t easy. Turkey’s main opposition parties – the Republican People’s party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – opposed the bill, creating tense scenes in parliament.
In January, a fist-fight erupted during a debate on one measure that would end “parliament’s authorization to inspect ministers and the Cabinet.”
One senior AKP lawmaker was left with a broken nose in the melee, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Political uncertainty looms
If the outcome of the April referendum is “yes,” it could potentially catapult Turkey into snap elections.
The role of president is largely ceremonial under the current constitution. In order to become president in the new system, Erdogan would have to be reelected after the constitutional changes kick in.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says elections will be held in 2019 as scheduled.
Erdogan’s rise to power
Opponents fear the reforms will give too much power to Erdogan.
Since an attempted coup in July, Erdogan has led an intense crackdown on government critics and those with alleged ties to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup attempt.
Hundreds of military officers have been dismissed, roughly 11,000 teachers were suspended and many media organizations were shut down.
More than 110,000 people have been detained in the post-coup crackdown; nearly 50,000 of them have been arrested on specific charges, according to Turkey’s Ministry of Interior.
How did Turkey get to this point? Here’s a look back at some of the key moments that defined Erdogan’s political rise and that helped to lay the groundwork for this historic vote.