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Referendum Gives Turkey Two Choices but Little Hope

On April 16, Turkish citizens will (most likely) vote on whether they want to amend the constitution to give their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even more power than he already has.

Erdogan’s supporters insist that a Yes vote, by creating a strong presidential system, will put a permanent end to Turkey’s traumatic and recent history of military coups and terrorist violence. Critics, meanwhile, warn that by ratifying Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, the referendum will solidify Turkey’s transformation from a troubled democracy into a de facto dictatorship.

Not surprisingly, independent observers almost all side with Erdogan’s critics in opposing the referendum. And yet, despite a general consensus that the stakes for Turkey and the region are high, there is reason to fear both outcomes could lead to continued chaos.

The biggest question remains whether there is any outcome that could optimistically be expected to bring Turkey a period of much-needed political stability.

Amidst a heavy-handed campaign in support of the referendum, in which opponents have been denied broadcast air time, called traitors, and even arrested, polls have consistently shown the Turkish electorate evenly split. Despite enormous pressure to support the president, many members of his own party are privately skeptical, giving further reason to think that No might prevail.

Yet anyone who’s watched Erdogan’s run of political successes over the past decade and a half is hesitant to bet against him. Erdogan recently picked a high-profile fight with the Dutch to drum up support, and rumors are rife that he might take more dramatic measures against Kurdish terrorists in Iraq or Syria to inflame nationalist sentiment in the remaining two weeks before the vote. To date, there is no evidence that the government plans to completely rig the results, but it does have plenty of dubious methods at its disposal to potentially pick up a few illegitimate points in a close race. A recent move to block opposition poll-watchers did not inspire confidence.

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