Referendum on Constitutional Amendments

16 April 2017

Result: the amendments passed with 51.4% of the vote.


  • Parliamentary republic, unicameral legislature: 550 representatives, elected every 4 years, proportional system; has responsibility for oversight of executive branch.
  • Executive branch: President, Prime Minister (head of government) and Council of Ministers.
  • President elected every 5 years, 2-round election, 2-term limit, directly elected, historically a mostly ceremonial role, by tradition not attached to any party.
  • Current president: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since 2014; he and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) sponsored Constitutional reform in Parliament.


  • Current Constitution dates from 1982, amended in 1995 and in 2010; April referendum is a vote on new amendments.
  • Cleared Parliament in January but did not reach passing vote threshold, thus needs popular vote.
  • Main changes in the text:
    • Abolish Prime Minister position, create one or more VP: President becomes head of government and of state, remains tied to his or her party;
    • New presidential powers: select ministers, appoint most senior judges, enact some laws by decree, dismiss Parliament, determine rules of appointment and dismissal for senior-level government officials;
    • Remove parliamentary oversight of executive branch, but create impeachment and investigation procedures for the President: both unlikely given high threshold to send a case to the Supreme Court (400 votes).
    • Hold parliamentary and presidential elections together every 5 years, increase number of MPs from 550 to 600.
  • Government advertises amendments as streamlining decision-making and ending the need for coalition building, but much of the text further consolidates the power of the President and diminishes checks and balances.
  • President will be limited to two terms but he or she can serve a third term by calling for early elections during the last year the of second term; reform resets the President’s current term limit.

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • Turkey hosts the Incirlik U.S. Air Force base, counting close to 1,500 military personnel, used for counter-ISIS coalition strikes.
  • Military contributor to NATO mission in Afghanistan and counter-ISIS coalition.
  • U.S. relies on Syrian Kurdish forces for counter-ISIS efforts while Turkey has increased crackdown on Kurdish militants in the PKK, a designated terrorist organization by U.S. and Turkey; Turkey sees Syrian Kurdish fighters as an extension of the PKK.
  • Hosts close to 3 million Syrian refugees, partnering with the EU to limit passage to Europe.
  • Erdoğan’s authoritarian shift has drawn him away from NATO (member since 1952) and EU, which Turkey still hopes to join; he criticized allies for not supporting him clearly after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Key Issues to Watch

  • Polling is biased or unreliable, but results are likely to be close as voters want to keep their vote secret until Sunday.
  • Continued state of emergency may affect the vote due to increasing tensions and heavy government scrutiny of the media, stifling reporting of referendum issues.
  • Early parliamentary elections are likely regardless of outcome as AKP will try to increase its number of seats in late 2017 or early 2018, and reform would only begin in 2019.
  • Erdoğan’s nationalist and authoritarian posture is likely to continue with either outcome, but a “yes” vote would further weaken Turkey’s democratic checks and balances and EU accession prospects, already a distant probability in part due to recent tensions with Germany, The Netherlands and Austria over the referendum.