In Brief

Turkey is divided over 'radical' referendum

Victory at the polls would give Erdogan dictatorial powers, says opposition

With only days to go before Turkey votes on a major constitutional shake-up that would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extensive new powers, the polls are on a "knife edge", says The Independent.

A few percentage points will decide the outcome of Sunday's vote, with the most recent polls showing the Yes campaign on 51 or 52 per cent.

One recent study of 17 national television channels showed that 90 per cent of campaign coverage was given to Yes supporters, The Economist reports. 

If Turkey votes Yes in the referendum, the role of president – currently a ceremonial head of state – would be endowed with a host of executive powers, similar to the office of president in France and the US.

Crucially, if the reforms are approved, the country's electoral calendar will be reset. This would allow Erdogan, who is currently halfway through his first term as president, to circumvent the country's current two-term presidential limit and run for two more five-year terms until 2029.

Erdogan and his supporters argue that the new constitution would give Turkey the strong leader it needs to tackle internal violence, corruption and a sharp economic downturn.

However, the No campaign, led by the opposition Republican People's party, say the reforms undermine Parliament and effectively make Erdogan a dictator.

The Council of Europe has called the proposed changes "a dangerous step backwards" for a country that was once proof that secular democracy could thrive in a majority-Muslim state.

A spate of deadly terror attacks by both Kurdish separatists and Islamists, as well as chaos over the Syrian border, has seen Turkey drift away from Western liberalism in recent years.

The failed coup by army officers last July has pushed this tendency into overdrive, bringing out "an increasingly authoritarian streak" in Erdogan, says CNN.

Under the guise of restoring stability, Erdogan's government has cracked down on civil liberties and arrested almost 50,000 activists, journalists and other supposed subversives.

Erdogan's response to the failed coup "has gone far beyond what is reasonable", says the Economist, and the referendum is the final straw – a Yes vote would effectively make him a "21st-century sultan".

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