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Turkish opposition party complaint about April 2017 referendum on president’s powers declared inadmissible

Human rights judges have rejected a complaint from a Turkish opposition party about the April 2017 referendum on the president’s powers.

The case of Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi v. Turkey (application no. 48818/17) concerned a complaint by a Turkish opposition party about the referendum held on 16 April 2017, on the modification and repeal of constitutional provisions dealing with presidential powers.

In its decision in the case the European Court of Human Rights has by a majority declared the application inadmissible.

The decision is final.

The party’s main argument was that the referendum should be considered to fall within the scope of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) as a result of the far-reaching nature of the changes it introduced into the Turkish parliamentary system and their inextricable link to the concept of effective political democracy in Turkey.

It also alleged that the government had failed to ensure the free expression of the people’s opinion in the choice of legislature, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

The court first noted that the provision of the European Convention in question referred to “free elections at reasonable intervals” and “the choice of the legislature”. As such, it was clear that the ordinary meaning of the word “elections” meant that the Article did not refer to referendums, which were limited to a particular time and a particular subject.

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It also examined the party’s argument that the fundamental nature of the changes involved meant that a referendum of the kind held in Turkey should be considered as part of the right to free elections.

However, the court emphasised that the text of the Convention provision did not allow for
an expansive interpretation of the applicability of the provision.

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