By early April, the people of Turkey will vote on a package of constitutional reforms that will extend the authority and power of the office of their president. If passed, the reforms would allow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remain in power until 2029. They would also grant him more powers to issue decrees and permit him to be a member of a political party. The plans envisage presidential and general elections in 2019 with a president eligible to serve a maximum two five-year terms.

Opposition Members of Parliament fear that the new powers for Erdogan will effectively turn Turkey into an authoritarian state. Their fears are based on the gradual concentration of powers around him, first during his terms as prime minister and now with his election to the presidency in Ankara. In the past two years, Turkey has become embroiled in the conflict in neighbouring Syria and in Iraq, and has made peace with the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party, then ending that accord and waging a full-blown assault of the Kurds.

Erdogan’s rule was rattled initially by a weaker-than-expected showing in a general election, but the events of last summer set a new watermark by those opposing him. Traditionally, the armed forces of Turkey have acted as a bulwark in support of the principles of a secularist republic as laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern state. The military have also intervened in a series of coups to protect their broad and inclusive secularist outlook. Indeed, a military coup attempt last summer failed, setting off a political and constitutional crisis in Turkey that has yet to be fully resolved, with trials of those accused pending and thousands more civil servants, teachers, officials and journalists suspended.

Erdogan and his supporters say that the constitutional reforms mean that Turkey will basically now have the same form of executive powers as offered to the president of France.

When it comes to voting on the referendum, Turks should consider there is a difference between the strict political science of constitutional reforms and the holders of that office.

In essence, experts in comparative political science will say that there is nothing inherently wrong in an executive-style administration as long as there are sufficient checks and balances through an independent judiciary and parliament with robust electoral processes. The events since the coup show Erdogan has targeted anyone who has spoken out against his administration. And that’s the worrying thing in these changes.