PA — April 17, 2017
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a historic referendum that will greatly expand the powers of his office, although opposition parties said they would challenge the results.
With nearly all ballots counted, the “yes” vote stood at 51.41%, while the “no” vote was 48.59%, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
The head of Turkey’s electoral board confirmed the “yes” victory and said final results would be declared in 11-12 days.
Although the margin fell short of the sweeping victory Mr Erdogan had sought in the landmark referendum, it could nevertheless cement his hold on power in Turkey.
The result is expected to have a huge effect on the country’s long-term political future and its international relations.
The 18 constitutional amendments that will come into effect after the next election, scheduled for 2019, will abolish the office of the prime minister and hand sweeping executive powers to the president.
Mr Erdogan, who first came to power in 2003 as prime minister, had argued a “Turkish-style” presidential system would bring stability and prosperity to the country.
Turkey was rocked by a failed coup last year that left more than 200 people dead, and has been hit by a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.
In his first remarks from Istanbul after the vote count showed the amendments winning approval, Mr Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone, thanking all voters no matter how they cast their ballots and calling the referendum a “historic decision”.
He said: “April 16 is the victory of all who said ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ of the whole 80 million, of the whole of Turkey.”
But he quickly reverted to a more abrasive style when addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters in Istanbul.
“There are those who are belittling the result. They shouldn’t try, it will be in vain,” he said. “It’s too late now.”
Responding to chants from the crowd to reinstate the death penalty, Mr Erdogan said he would take up the issue with the country’s political leaders, adding that the question could be put to another referendum.
Opponents had argued the constitutional changes would give too much power to a man who they say has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Opposition parties complained of a number of irregularities in the voting, and were particularly incensed by an electoral board decision announced on Sunday afternoon to accept as valid ballots that did not bear the official stamp.
“The Supreme Electoral Board changed rules mid-game, after the ballot envelopes were opened, in a way contrary to laws,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition People’s Republican Party.
Earlier, the party’s vice chairman, Erdal Aksunger, said it would challenge between 37% and 60% of the ballot boxes and accused Anadolu’s results of being inaccurate.
But electoral board head Sadi Guven defended the decision.
“There is no question of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” he said.