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Turkish constitutional reform referendum to go ahead: electoral council

[JURIST] Turkey will hold a constitutional reform referendum on Sunday as scheduled, the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council [official website, in Turkish] said Wednesday. The referendum addresses a package of proposed reforms which include reducing the maximum parliamentary from five years to four; requiring a legislative voting quorum of one-third of Turkish MPs; reducing the presidential term from seven to five years and providing for the possibility of a second presidential term, and - most importantly - changing the presidential election process to a popular vote. Turkish voters will be asked to decide on the reforms as a group, as opposed to each individually. There was originally some controversy over whether the proposed presidential election reform would retroactively require parliamentarily-selected Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile] to submit himself to a popular vote or whether it would only affect future elections. On Tuesday, parliament amended the reform bill to clarify that it would not apply to Gul's presidency. In response, Electoral Council President Muammer Aydin [official profile, in Turkish] indicated that the Council might delay or cancel the referendum because 20,000 absentee ballots had already been received using the original text. The Council ultimately decided that too few votes had been cast to affect the outcome of the referendum, and so voting could continue as planned. AFP has more. NTV has additional coverage.

Gul's original candidacy in April caused controversy when he ran as the sole contender for the Turkish presidency [BBC Q&A]. The Turkish Constitutional Court voided [JURIST report] an April parliamentary vote in support of Gul because a quorum of legislators did not participate, prompting calls for constitutional reform [JURIST report]. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official website] accused the court of hurting democracy and said he would support dissolving parliament and holding an early parliamentary election to ensure that Turkey's leaders were chosen by the people rather than the courts.

The Turkish parliament subsequently backed a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] supported by the government to allow voters to directly elect the president. The bill was vetoed [JURIST report] by then-Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer [BBC profile], and then passed by parliament a second time [JURIST report] in a vote marred by complaints of balloting violations. The ruling AKP party then sought to hold a national referendum [JURIST report] on the issue; Sezer later blocked the referendum [JURIST reports] from taking place at the same time as parliamentary elections [BBC Q&A] in July. The Constitutional Court ultimately ruled that the referendum could proceed [JURIST report] and set a date of Oct. 21.

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