Turkey referendum: Erdogan wins vote to expand presidential powers

Turkey referendum: Erdogan wins vote to expand presidential powers

Media captionPresident Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Decision made by the Turkish public is a historic moment”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has narrowly won a referendum to expand presidential powers, which could keep him in office until 2029.

With 99.45% of ballots counted, the “Yes” campaign had won 51.37% and “No” 48.63%, and the electoral board called victory for “Yes”.

Erdogan supporters say replacing the parliamentary system with an executive presidency will modernise the country.

Turkey’s two main opposition parties said they would challenge the results.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) demanded a recount of 60% of votes.

They criticised a decision to accept unstamped ballot papers as valid unless proven otherwise.

Three people were shot dead near a polling station in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakir, reportedly during a dispute over how they were voting.

About 55 million people were eligible to vote across 167,000 polling stations, and turnout was reportedly at least 85%.

The referendum, the BBC’s Mark Lowen reports, was effectively one on Mr Erdogan and the Turkey he has moulded in his image: fiercely nationalist and conservative.

Polarising result: BBC’s Mark Lowen in Ankara

Supporters are streaming into the governing AK party’s headquarters here in Ankara, car horns and campaign songs blaring – they are convinced the “Yes” side has won and that President Erdogan now has a mandate for the biggest political reform in Turkey’s modern history.

The president has claimed victory but the opposition disputes it, complaining of massive irregularities with the voting, suggesting the state news agency manipulated results and vowing to challenge them with the supreme election board.

Turkey has shown itself more polarised than ever tonight. And if the protests gather steam, this could get ugly.

Death penalty next?

“Today… Turkey has taken a historic decision,” Mr Erdogan told a briefing at his official Istanbul residence, the Huber Palace. “With the people, we have realised the most important reform in our history.”

He called on everyone to respect the outcome of the vote.

The president also said the country could hold a referendum on bringing back the death penalty.

He usually gives triumphant balcony speeches, the BBC’s Mark Lowen notes, but this was a muted indoors address.

Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak admitted the “Yes” vote had been lower than expected.

What’s in the new constitution?

The draft states that the next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on 3 November 2019.

The president will have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms.

  • The president will be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers
  • He will also be able to assign one or several vice-presidents
  • The job of prime minister, currently held by Binali Yildirim, will be scrapped
  • The president will have power to intervene in the judiciary, which Mr Erdogan has accused of being influenced by Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher he blames for the failed coup in July
  • The president will decide whether or not impose a state of emergency

‘French-style system’

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AFP

Image caption

There was just a simple “Yes” or “No” choice on the ballot

A large crowd of the president’s supporters gathered outside the headquarters of his AK Party (AKP) in the capital Ankara to celebrate even before the final results were known.

Mr Erdogan says the changes are needed to address Turkey’s security challenges nine months after an attempted coup, and to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

The new system, he argues, will resemble those in France and the US and will bring calm in a time of turmoil marked by a Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has led to a huge refugee influx.

Critics of the changes fear the move will make the president’s position too powerful, arguing that it amounts to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems such as those in France and the US.

Media captionAcademic voices her fears for her country

They say his ability to retain ties to a political party – Mr Erdogan could resume leadership of AKP he co-founded – will end any chance of impartiality.

CHP deputy leader Erdal Aksunger said he believed there had been irregularities in the count: “Many illegal acts are being carried out in favour of the ‘Yes’ campaign right now.

“There is the state on one side and people on the other. ‘No’ will win in the end. Everybody will see that.”

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) also challenged the vote.

Critics abroad fear Erdogan’s reach

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Emergency rule

Many Turks already fear growing authoritarianism in their country, where tens of thousands of people have been arrested, and at least 100,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs, since a coup attempt last July.

The campaign unfolded under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the failed coup.

Mr Erdogan assumed the presidency, meant to be a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister.

Under his rule, the middle class has ballooned and infrastructure has been modernised, while religious Turks have been empowered.

Relations with the EU, meanwhile, have deteriorated. Mr Erdogan sparred bitterly with European governments who banned rallies by his ministers in their countries during the referendum campaign. He called the bans “Nazi acts”.

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Turkey referendum: Erdogan wins vote to expand presidential powers