Turkey Votes on Sweeping Reforms Bill

People cheer and wave the national flag as Turkey’s president delivers a speech during a rally on the eve of the constitutional referendum, on April 15 in Istanbul.People cheer and wave the national flag as Turkey’s president delivers a speech during a rally on the eve of the constitutional referendum, on April 15 in Istanbul.

Millions of Turks voted on Sunday on a controversial new draft constitution that would give sweeping new powers to the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Voters were being asked to endorse an 18-article reform package put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party that would effectively replace the system of parliamentary democracy with a powerful executive presidency, CNN reported.

Under a "Yes" result, which requires a simple majority, the role of prime minister would be abolished and the president would be able to rule with minimal sign-off from parliament.

Early counting in Turkey's referendum registered 63 percent support for a "Yes" vote to give sweeping new powers to President Tayyip Erdogan, broadcaster NTV said

Erdogan's supporters say the new system would bring political and economic stability. Opponents fear the proposals amount to a constitutional dictatorship.

If approved, the new arrangements would kick in over time. The post of prime minister would be abolished after the 2019 national elections and time-limits on the newly-empowered presidency would be reset. If he won in 2019 and 2024, Erdogan could be in power until 2029.

Erdogan would once again be able to lead the Justice and Development Party; at present, the presidency is supposed to be politically neutral. He would also be able to appoint a number of senior judges.

After serving as prime minster for more a decade, Erdogan became president in 2014. By little more than force of personality, he turned a largely ceremonial post into a vehicle of significant power.

He has initiated a widespread crackdown on opposition, which has intensified after last July's botched coup, for which he blamed US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The clampdown, which led to the arrests of 47,155 government critics, academics, journalists, military officials and civil servants, has drawn international condemnation.

The referendum has split Turkish society, according to voters speaking days before the vote.

People started casting their ballots in eastern Turkey at 7am (04:00 GMT), while voting in the rest of the country started at 8am (05:00 GMT). Polls will close at 4pm (13:00 GMT) in the east and 5pm (14:00 GMT) elsewhere. Unofficial results are expected later on Sunday.

A "Yes" vote in the referendum will give the president new powers to assign ministers, high-level state officials and vice-presidents, as well as half the members in the country's highest judicial body. It will also allow the president to dissolve parliament, and issue executive decrees and state of emergencies.

Shooting in Diyarbakir

At least two people were killed in a shooting between two groups of residents in a village of Yabanardi in Turkey's south-eastern province of Diyarbakir during the constitutional referendum on Sunday, local media reported.

According to the NTV broadcaster, the shooting occurred near a polling station. The reports suggested that conflict erupted due to the differences in political views of the groups of citizens, Sputnik reported.

About 53.3 million of voters are expected to cast their ballots at over 160,000 polling stations, with 460 additional stations in prisons. The citizens have to chose, whether say "yes" to the amendments to the constitution, concerning presidential powers, or "no."

The amendments were approved by the Turkish parliament in January, despite the criticism from the opposition parties that see the move as a power grab attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The changes, if passed, would result in the elimination of the post of the prime minister, while presidential powers would be significantly expanded.

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