With 95.73% of the ballots counted, early results put the “yes” vote ahead, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Results show 51.94% of Turks are in favor of giving Erdogan more power and 48.06% are against.
Voters were asked to endorse an 18-article reform package put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party that would replace the current system of parliamentary democracy with a powerful executive presidency.
Erdogan, who cast his vote in Istanbul earlier in the day amid tight security, said he hoped Turks would make the “expected” choice.
Earlier in the day, three people were reported to have died after an exchange of gunfire near a polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. The cause of the clash was not immediately clear and it was not known if there was a connection to the referendum.
If passed, the measures will represent the biggest constitutional upheaval in the country since its foundation in 1923 after the demise of the Ottoman Empire.
They would cement Erdogan’s grip on a country whose divisions have deepened since a failed coup attempt last July that ended with the deaths of more than 250 people and led to the imposition of a fierce crackdown on dissent.
Those who support the reforms believe they will kick-start a lethargic economy and stabilize a nation dealing with the resurgence of a 30-year conflict with militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But opponents argue the proposals will lead to the formation of a constitutional dictatorship.
If Erdogan prevails in the vote, his grip on power would be considerably tightened. Term limits for the presidency would be reset and, if he wins elections in 2019 and 2024, he could be in power until 2029.
Critics say the clampdown has gone beyond the supporters of the coup and is designed to silence dissent in the run-up to the referendum.