Turkey votes in historic referendum2:19
Turkish citizens have started voting in a referendum that could give President Erdogan sweeping new powers.
TURKISH president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appears to have won a historic referendum greatly expanding his powers in a narrow and divisive vote.
The ‘Yes’ campaign was on course to win a tightly-contested referendum on Sunday although the ‘No’ camp had closed the gap, according to initial results.
The ‘Yes’ campaign had won 51.3 per cent of the vote while the ‘No’ campaign had mustered 48.7 per cent, the election commission said in figures quoted by state news agency Anadolu, in a count based on 99 per cent of the ballot boxes.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim declared victory in the vote. So too did Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, Turkey’s main nationalist party, saying in a statement that Turkish voters chose of their free will to move the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government.
The results from Sunday’s vote are expected to have a huge effect on Turkey’s long-term political future and on its relations with the European Union and the world.
Mr Bahceli called the outcome “a very important success; a win that makes neglect and denial impossible.” He said Turkey rejected international “pressure, blackmail, imposition, force and threats by the whole world to put the ‘no’ choice forward.”
However the legitimacy of the win was already being called in to question with the country’s main opposition party saying it will challenge 37 per cent of the ballot boxes counted so far. Republic People’s Party, or CHP, Deputy Chairman Erdal Aksunger predicted that the figure could even increase to 60 per cent.
Mr Aksunger said: “Since this morning, we have determined some 2.5 million problematic votes.” The country’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, which also opposed the constitutional changes, says it plans to object to two-thirds of the ballots. The Peoples’ Democratic Party said on its Twitter account: “Our data indicates a manipulation in the range of 3 to 4 per cent.”
More than 55 million people in this country of about 80 million were registered to vote and more than 1.3 million Turkish voters cast their ballots abroad. Officials said Mr Erdogan was already thanking allies and supporters for the passage of the constitutional changes as the vote neared its end.
If the “yes” vote prevails, the 18 constitutional changes will replace Turkey’s parliamentary system of government with a presidential one, abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to the president.
Mr Erdogan and his supporters say the “Turkish-style” presidential system would bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by last year’s coup attempt and a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.
But opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring that the 63-year-old, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.
The proposed changes would grant the president powers to appoint ministers, senior government officials and half the members of Turkey’s highest judicial body, as well as issue decrees and declare states of emergency. It sets a limit of two five-year terms for presidents and also allows the president to remain at the helm of a political party. The changes would come into effect with the next general election, scheduled for 2019.
Mr Erdogan first came to power in 2003 as prime minister and served in that role until becoming Turkey’s first directly elected president in 2014. He has long sought to expand the powers of the president.
The campaign has been highly divisive and heavily one-sided, with the “yes” side dominating the airwaves and billboards across the country. Supporters of the “no” vote have complained of intimidation, recording more than 100 incidents of obstruction to its campaign efforts, including beatings, detentions and threats.