Turkey's Erdogan celebrates referendum victory as opponents vow to challenge

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Updated

April 17, 2017 07:18:07

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has celebrated what he said is a clear win in a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers, but opponents said they would challenge the vote count which gave a narrow 51.3 per cent lead to Mr Erdogan’s supporters.

Key points:

  • A “yes” vote replaces Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with a presidential system
  • The referendum bitterly divides the nation
  • Supporters say “one-man rule” isn’t bad while opponents say it destroys democracy
  • Official results are expected in 11-12 days

The “yes” campaign won 1.25 million more votes than the “no” campaign, the head of the country’s High Electoral Board said, and with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted meant the constitutional changes had been approved.

Speaking to supporters in Istanbul, Mr Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone, thanking all voters regardless of how they cast their ballots and describing the referendum as a “historic decision”.

“April 16 is the victory of all who said yes or no, of the whole 80 million, of the whole of Turkey of 780,000-square kilometres,” Mr Erdogan said.

Mr Erdogan reportedly called Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist MHP party, which supported the “yes” vote, to congratulate them — Mr Erdogan was quoted as saying the referendum result was clear.

But the result appeared short of the decisive victory that Mr Erdogan and the ruling AK Party had campaigned aggressively for.

In Turkey’s three biggest cities — Istanbul, Izmir and the capital Ankara — the “no” camp appeared set to prevail narrowly, according to Turkish television stations.

Addressing a crowd outside the AKP’s headquarters in Ankara, Mr Yildirim maintained that the “yes” camp had won.

“A new page has been opened in our democratic history,” Mr Yildirim said.

“We are brothers, one body, one nation.”

Convoys of cars honking horns in celebration, their passengers waving flags from the windows, clogged a main avenue in Ankara as they headed towards the AKP’s headquarters to celebrate.

A chant of Mr Erdogan’s name rang out from loud speakers and campaign buses.

A “yes” vote would replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Mr Erdogan in office until at least 2029, in the most radical change to the country’s political system in its modern history.

The outcome will also shape Turkey’s strained relations with the European Union.

The NATO member state has curbed the flow of asylum seekers — mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq — into the bloc, but Mr Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.

Referendum leaves nation bitterly divided

The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) said it would demand a recount of up to 60 per cent of the votes, protesting against a last-minute decision by the electoral board to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes.

“We will pursue a legal battle,” CHP deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said.

“If the irregularities are not fixed, there will be a serious legitimacy discussion.”

But Mr Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

“This is our opportunity to take back control of our country,” said self-employed Bayram Seker, 42, after voting “yes” in Istanbul.

“I don’t think one-man rule is such a scary thing. Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man,” he said, referring to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Opponents say it is a step towards greater authoritarianism in a country where some 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last July, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups.

“I voted ‘no’ because I don’t want this whole country and its legislative, executive and judiciary ruled by one man,” said Hamit Yaz, 34, a ship’s captain, after voting in Istanbul.

“This would not make Turkey stronger or better as they claim. This would weaken our democracy.”

Turkey’s High Electoral Board said that official results should be expected in 11-12 days.

Reuters/AP

Topics:

world-politics,

government-and-politics,

turkey

First posted

April 17, 2017 06:30:41



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