Home / Ankara / Rights Groups, NGOs and Experts Agree: Questionable Legitimacy for the Referendum

Rights Groups, NGOs and Experts Agree: Questionable Legitimacy for the Referendum


EU-Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), an organization established in 2004 to monitor “Turkish compliance with the EU accession criteria” published a report last month based on its visit to Turkey in February of this year.

The ten-member delegation from Europe and North America met with the representatives of Turkish political parties, journalists, academics, lawyers and other civil society organizations in Istanbul and Diyarbakir. The report said, “This situation, combined with the repression of opposition media, means that the conditions for a free and fair plebiscite on proposed constitutional reforms simply do not hold, and therefore casts serious doubt about the democratic legitimacy of the outcome of the referendum.”

Human Rights Watch

In a report last month, Human Rights Watch noted that by jailing 13 members of the pro-Kurdish opposition party and taking direct control of 82 municipalities by suspending elected mayors, the Turkish Government violated the political association and participation rights of the elected officials. “This situation constitutes an alarming obstruction with the party’s parliamentary work and its right to organize its campaign in advance of the referendum,” the report said. Human Rights Watch also criticized the proposed amendment to the constitution saying it will lead to a concentration of power in the office of the president.

The proposed amendment has been widely criticized for lacking checks and balances to protect the rule of law against misuse of power by the office of the president. Both opposition parties have spoken against the proposed expansion of presidential powers.

The European Commission

The European Commission earlier last month had published a statement voicing their concern “at the excessive concentration of authority in one office, with grave effect on the necessary checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary.” They also voiced concern that the process was taking place under the state of emergency rules.


OSCE watchers published a damning interim report to point out many circumstances ahead of referendum promising April 16th election is not going to be free nor fair.

Politicians and Academics

Many Turkish politicians and academics have expressed similar concerns. Speaking at a panel discussion titled “Law for all/ for tomorrow” CHP deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu said that the result of the election would not be legitimate due to the oppression of the opposition. During his speech, Mr. Tanrikulu told the audience: “Politics has three tools. [First one] our party chairs, co-chairs, parliamentarians, city mayors. They are in jail. The second one is our organizations, over 2,800 party administrators are in prison. Third, a free media, the Turkish media is under pressure. Most importantly, thousands of people lost their homes. How fair is this referendum?”

Bülent Serim: Not legitimate

Bulent Serim, a retired Turkish official, noted that the Article 16 of the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights requires “separation of powers” and argued that the proposed amendment to the constitution is not legitimate in an article he wrote for a news portal Odatv. He claimed in his article that the participation of the President in the referendum is by itself a violation of the Constitution which requires the President to be impartial.

If approved the amendment will establish a “Turkish-style” executive presidency, this will be the most significant change to Turkey’s political system since the bill for a multiparty election system in 1946.

One-Man Show

Even though the elections are scheduled for 2019, the president will immediately have increased authority and can have a party affiliation. The president will be able to appoint or dismiss vice presidents, ministers, and high state officials without the approval of the parliament. The amendment grants the president right to legislate by decree and secures the presidency’s budget without parliamentary approval. The president will have the power to dissolve the parliament and trigger parliamentary elections.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum it seems that Turkey’s bid to join the EU will be put on ice following the referendum. The European Commission in their statement warned Turkey that if the amendment is approved the changes “will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations as an EU candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe.”

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