[4/18/17] President Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in a referendum on Sunday to grant him sweeping powers in the biggest overhaul of modern Turkish politics, but opponents said the vote was marred by irregularities and they would challenge its result.
Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and its three main cities, including the capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul, looked set to vote “No” after a bitter and divisive campaign.
Erdogan said 25 million people had supported the proposal, which will replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidency and abolish the office of prime minister, giving the “Yes” camp 51.5 percent of the vote.
That appeared short of the decisive victory for which he and the ruling AK Party had aggressively campaigned. Nevertheless, thousands of flag-waving supporters rallied in Ankara and Istanbul in celebration.
“For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics,” Erdogan said, referring to the military coups which marred Turkish politics for decades. “That is why it is very significant.”
Under the changes, most of which will only come into effect after the next elections due in 2019, the president will appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, and be able to select and remove senior civil servants without parliamentary approval.
There has been some speculation that Erdogan could call new elections so that his new powers could take effect right away. However, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told Reuters there was no such plan, and the elections would still be held in 2019.
Erdogan himself survived a failed coup attempt last July, responding with a crackdown that has seen 47,000 people detained and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.
In Ankara, where Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addressed cheering supporters, convoys of cars honking horns clogged a main avenue as they headed toward the AK Party’s headquarters, their passengers waving flags from the windows.
But opponents questioned the validity of the vote, calling for a recount and challenging a last minute decision by the electoral authorities to allow ballots to be counted that were not stamped by election officials.
The head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said the legitimacy of the referendum was open to question. His party said it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes.
The chairman of the electoral board said the decision to allow unstamped ballots to be counted was not unprecedented, as the government had allowed such a move in the past.