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All you need to know about the Turkish referendum

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a referendum rally in Corum, Turkey, on Monday.—AP

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a referendum rally in Corum, Turkey, on Monday.—AP

What’s the story and why does it matter?

Turks will go to the polls on April 16 to vote on constitutional amendments that would transform the country from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential system.

The package, which includes 18 amendments, is being put to the people because the proposed changes to the constitution did not get the backing of two-thirds of MPs in parliament. In this case the reforms were passed in the Turkish Grand National Assembly on Jan 16 with a simple majority, and then approved by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan.

The referendum could bring about arguably the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923. The determination with which Erdoan has pursued it has seen him dispatch ministers to Europe in search of expatriate voters, and attack the Dutch government as “Nazi remnants” when it cancelled campaign events.

Under the new system, Erdoan will be able to stand in two more election cycles, which means if he wins the 2019 and 2024 polls he could potentially stay on as a powerful head of state until 2029. He could also return to the leadership of the Justice and Development party (AKP), which he co-founded, and which holds the overwhelming majority in parliament.

The post of president used to be largely ceremonial but had some influence over policymaking. Through sheer force of personality, and the loyalty he still commands among the AKP electorate and their lawmakers, Erdoan has made it a much more powerful job. Should the referendum go his way, it will be more powerful still.

What exactly will people be voting on?

The 18 amendments primarily deal with the powers of the executive and legislative branches. They include: The abolition of the post of prime minister. The president will appoint the cabinet and will have a number of vice-presidents. Parliament will no longer oversee the ministers as their power to initiate a motion of no confidence will be removed. The president will no longer have to be neutral, but will be able to maintain an affiliation to his political party. Currently the president has to sever ties with his party once he is elected. The number of members of parliament will be increased from 550 to 600 and their minimum age lowered to 18. It will be possible for the president to be impeached by parliament. At the moment he could only be prosecuted by the legislature if he committed treason. The abolition of military courts. The president will be able to appoint four out of 13 judges to the highest judicial board in the country.

Isn’t Turkey in a state of emergency?

Yes, and the environment in which the referendum is taking place is extremely challenging, particularly for those who oppose the changes.

The state of emergency was introduced last summer after a failed coup attempt in which 248 people were killed and more than 1,400 injured. The coup is widely believed in Turkey to have been orchestrated by followers of Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive preacher based in the US with a global grassroots movement known as Cemaat or Hizmet. Gülen denies thissupporters of Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a rally in his home town city of Rize, in the Black Sea region of Turkey.—AP

A purge of the civil service, police, military, judiciary, academia and media organisations has led to the dismissal or arrest of tens of thousands of people accused of links to the Gülenists. Erdoan’s opponents say the purges have gone far beyond the coup’s perpetrators, and have turned into a witch-hunt against any political opposition.

So far, 152 journalists are in jail in Turkey, according to opposition parties, and a wide-ranging crackdown on the opposition People’s Democratic party (HDP) has resulted in a dozen of their lawmakers being detained, including their two chiefs.

Turkey has also endured a slew of terror attacks by Islamic State, the latest of which was an assault on the Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve that killed 39 people. Attacks by the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), a designated terror group fighting an insurgency in the south-east, have continued after the collapse of peace talks in June 2015.

Why are some people going to vote ‘yes’?

The majority that approved the constitutional changes in parliament consisted of the AKP in alliance with the nationalists.

Supporters of the changes argue that they will lead to a “strong Turkey” where the executive will be able to wield power to promote economic development and combat terrorism, pointing to the chaos of coalition governments in the 1990s whose bickering drove Turkey into economic recession and catastrophic inflation.

They also believe a powerful executive, which they compare to the system in France, the US or Mexico, will be better able to handle the threat of terrorism at uncertain times, particularly after the coup attempt, the surge in violence in Kurdish-majority areas and the ongoing campaign against Isis and the Gülen network. They see comfort in the stability of ongoing AKP rule.

Supporters also say the change is necessary to move on from an antiquated constitution drafted under military rule, which they say produced a “two-headed executive” with conflicting powers and authorities that could paralyse decision-making in government. They also say there are sufficient checks and balances in the proposed system, such as the ability to impeach the president for a broader set of crimes and to call early presidential elections, to avoid an excessive amount of power being concentrated in one person’s hands.

Muhammet Emin Akbaolu, an AKP MP and member of the constitutional committee, said: “There will be more stability, Turkey won’t lose time any more, the uncertainties and things that can cause instability will be gone, and the state apparatus will shed its weight, the poorly functioning parts.”

Political intricacies aside, Erdoan can also rely on his personal appeal to supporters who see him as a down to earth leader who is able to stand up to the west. They also see him as a force to empower the poor and downtrodden, and many respect his religious piety and Islamic values.

Why are others going to vote no?

The two main opposition parties, the staunchly secularist Republican People’s party (CHP) and the HDP, which includes primarily Kurdish lawmakers as well as a coalition of leftist and minority groups, voted against the bill.

Opponents believe the presidential system will usher in a one-man regime led by Erdoan, who they say has grown increasingly authoritarian over the years. They point to the government’s broad crackdown on dissent, as well as the president’s apparent sensitivity to personal slights and insults as evidence of his intolerance of criticism.

They say the changes will empower the president to continue his purge of the bureaucracy, police, military, judiciary and academia, as well as the systematic arrests and harassment of a large cadre of the HDP’s political and grassroots organisation.

Bülent Tezcan, a CHP MP and member of the constitutional committee, said the proposed package means “the democratic regime in Turkey will be replaced with one man rule”. “It gives all the powers, including executive and judicial, [to the president], and all three branches of government will all be connected to one person,” he added.

Opponents also argue that the referendum is taking place under hostile conditions, with opponents effectively silenced by the detention of leading politicians, academics and journalists, including the charismatic HDP chief, Selahattin Demirta, and journalists at the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Opponents also dispute the claim that there will be enough checks and balances in the proposed system. They argue it would not do enough to contain the president’s power, removing from parliament the ability to oversee the executive branch, giving him the power to appoint too many judges, and allowing Erdoan to remain an AKP member in a move that would consolidate his hold on all aspects of political life.

Who’s going to win?

It’s a tight race, and nobody knows what will happen. Polls have varied widely, a sign of a divided electorate. The result may hinge on the 10pc of voters who say they are still undecided.

By arrangement with The Guardian

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2017

Misbah shows class again as Faisalabad dominate

MULTAN: A view of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy Grade-II match between Bahawalpur and Multan at the Multan Cricket Stadium on Thursday.—APP

KARACHI: Pakistan Test skipper Misbah-ul-Haq continued his warm-up for the Test series against the West Indies with another sublime innings as Faisalabad took early command of their fifth and final round Quaid-i-Azam Trophy Grade-II fixture here on Thursday.

The 42-year-old, who made 111 against Hyderabad last Sunday, took the centre stage at the National Stadium where on a green-tinged track, Abbottabad could muster just 103 in their first innings.

Paceman Naseer Akram grabbed his second five-for in succession, this time taking 5-30 on 10 overs.

Faisalabad made a solid start with Ali Rafiq (160 and the impressive Abdul Samad (47 off 97 balls, seven fours) putting on 37 for the first wicket.

Misbah, arriving at 48-2, then dominated the reminder of the day with an array of handsome strokes. The right-hander’s 109-ball knock includes 13 boundaries thus far and his unbroken stand with Khurram Shehzad (24) is with 75 as Faisalabad reached 178-3.

In the other Group ‘B’ match at the Niaz Stadium in Hyderabad, Quetta were 55-1 after hosts Hyderabad were restricted to 220 all out in 60.1 overs.

Multan collected 137-2 after dismissing Bahawalpur for 190 at the Multan Cricket Stadium in Multan. Opener Zain Abbas was batting on an 80-ball 70 (12 fours).

Earlier slow left-armer Ali Usman captured six wickets for 50 runs.

Sialkot, who top Group ‘A’, were surprisingly in trouble as they slid to 35-2 after Azad Jammu Kashmir made 287-8 in the allotted 83 overs at the Dring Stadium in Bahawalpur.

Close of play scores on Thursday (day one of three):

Fifth round:

Group ‘A’:

At Dring Stadium, Bahawalpur: AZAD JAMMU KASHMIR 287-8 in 83 overs (Usman Maroof 72, Azhar Mughal 67, Ikram Hussain 50, Naved Malik 49; Mansoor Amjad 4-89, Ahsan Hafeez Bhatti 4-103); SIALKOT 35-2 in 8 overs (Faisal Khaliq 2-4).

At Multan Cricket Stadium, Multan: BAHAWALPUR 190 in 63 overs (Imranullah Aslam 49, Jawwad Ahmed 47, Mudassar Nazir 28, Adeel Basit 26; Ali Usman 6-50, Sohaib Maqsood 2-8, Sadaif Mehdi 2-55); MULTAN 137-2 in 25 overs (Zain Abbas 70 not out, Waqar Hussain 28).

Group ‘B’:

At National Stadium, Karachi: ABBOTTABAD 103 in 36.5 overs (Riaz Kail 23, Nasir Khan 21 not out; Naseer Akram 5-30, Ahmed Safi 2-10, Waqas Maqsood 2-24); FAISALABAD 178-3 in 51 overs (Misbah-ul-Haq 82 not out, Abdul Samad 47, Khurram Shehzad 24 not out; Ikramullah Khan 2-52).

At Niaz Stadium, Hyderabad: HYDERABAD 220 in 60.1 overs (Shoaib Leghari 46, Azeem Ghumman 35, Nauman Ali 29, Mohammad Awais 29, Mir Darya Khan 26; Bakhtiar Shah 4-52, Gohar Faiz 2-45, Hamal Wahab 2-57, Sher Ai 2-63); QUETTA 55-1 in 27 overs (Bismillah Khan 29 not out).

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2017


India’s Manohar to stay on as ICC chairman

India's Manohar to stay on as ICC chairman

India’s Manohar to stay on as ICC chairman

Chairman agreed to withdraw his resignation temporarily after the ICC board asked him to see through the restructuring.

IS claims ‘suicide’ blast near Bangladesh airport

The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility late Friday for a suspected suicide bomb attack outside the Bangladeshi capital’s main international airport, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.

A bomber was killed in the blast, police said, the third in a series of suspected attacks and the second claimed by the IS group since last week.

The bomb, carried by a man on foot, exploded near a police checkpoint monitoring vehicles heading to Hazrat Shahjahal International Airport in Dhaka.

“The bomb carrier himself was killed,” a Dhaka police spokesman, Yusuf Ali, told AF

A bomber was killed in the blast, police said, the third in a series of suspected attacks and the second claimed by the IS group since last week.

The bomb, carried by a man on foot, exploded near a police checkpoint monitoring vehicles heading to Hazrat Shahjahal International Airport in Dhaka.

“The bomb carrier himself was killed,” a Dhaka police spokesman, Yusuf Ali, told AFP.


In an Arabic report, the IS group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to US-based monitoring agency SITE Intelligence Group.

“A martyrdom-seeking attack targeted a Bangladeshi police checkpoint near the international airport in the city of Dhaka,” the IS-linked Amaq news agency said.

Dhaka police chief Asaduzzaman Mia denied it was a suicide attack.

“He was carrying it (the bomb) but we can’t confirm yet whether he was trying to attack the check-post,” he said, adding that the bomb carrier was aged around 30.

However, a police officer, who cannot be named, told AFP that they suspected it was a “suicide blast” in which only the “suicide attacker” was killed.

The suspected attack was the third since last Friday, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a camp for the country’s elite security force near the airport.

The attacker was killed and two members of the Rapid Action Battalion, tasked with combating militancy, were injured.

The IS group claimed the attack but the Bangladeshi government deny the presence of IS in the country and rejected the militants’ claim.

IS has also claimed responsibility for a wave of killings since 2015 including for a major attack on a Dhaka cafe last year in which 22 people, including 18 foreign hostages, were killed.

The Bangladeshi government argues a new faction of homegrown extremist group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was behind that and other attacks.

Last Saturday a man on a motorbike tried to cross a RAB security roadblock in Dhaka carrying a bag with improvised explosive devices.

Bangladesh police shot the suspected militant dead.

The latest incident came as police in the northeastern city of Sylhet cordoned off a five-storey building early Friday morning where suspected militants were holed up.

Police have also been carrying out a series of raids in the southern Chittagong region and say they killed four suspected militants when they stormed an extremist hideout last Thursday.