Turks will go to the polls on 16 April 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 16 January with a simple majority, and then approved by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The referendum could bring about arguably the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923. The determination with which Erdoğan 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, Erdoğan 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, Erdoğan has made it a much more powerful job. Should the referendum go his way, it will be more powerful still.