Turkey’s Erdogan claims victory in historic referendum to expand his powers
ISTANBUL // Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday night hailed Turkey for making a “historic decision” as he claimed victory in the referendum on a new constitution expanding his powers.
“With the people, we have realised the most important reform in our history,” he said, adding that critics of the “belittling” result of presidential powers referendum “shouldn’t try, it will be in vain”.
His comments came as the “Yes” camp looked almost certain to win the ballot with 99 per cent of votes counted, according to figures from the official Anadolu news agency.
The results were expected to have a huge effect on Turkey’s long-term political future and on its relations with the European Union and wider world.
Anadolu said 51.3 per cent had voted “Yes”, backing the constitutional changes to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential vote. It said 48.6 per cent had voted “no”.
More than 55 million people in a country of about 80 million were registered to vote, while more than 1.3 million Turkish voters had cast their ballots abroad.
Officials said Mr Erdogan, who is the founder of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was already thanking allies and supporters for the passage of the constitutional changes as the vote neared its end.
The vice-chairman of Turkey’s main opposition party, however, said they would contest 37 per cent of the votes counted.
The opposition criticised the decision of the country’s elections board to accept as valid ballot papers that don’t have its official stamp. The Republican People’s Party deputy chairman, Bulent Tezcan, said on Sunday that the decision left the results of the constitutional referendum “faced with a serious legitimacy problem”.
Turkey’s supreme election board announced the unprecedented move after many voters casting their votes in the country’s historic referendum complained that they were given ballot papers without the official stamp.
Following a “Yes” vote, 18 constitutional changes would 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 a “Turkish-style” presidential system will bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by last year’s coup attempt and a series of devastating attacks by ISIL and Kurdish militants.
But opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring that the 63-year-old Mr Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.
Mr Erdogan described the referendum as an opportunity for “change and transformation” as he voted Sunday in Istanbul, where black-clad bodyguards with automatic weapons stood guard outside the polling station.
“We need to make a decision that is beyond the ordinary,” he said.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party and leading “No” campaigner, called the referendum a vote on Turkey’s future.
“We hope the results will be good and together we can have the opportunity to discuss Turkey’s other fundamental problems,” he said.
The ballots themselves did not include the referendum question – it was assumed to be understood. Voters used an official stamp to select between “Yes” and “No.”
* Associated Press
Updated: April 17, 2017 04:00 AM