There have been jubilation as well as angry protests in Turkey following the result of a referendum conducted on Sunday which showed that 51.4% of the country’s citizens supports that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan be given more powers.
Head of the electoral body, Sadi Guven, insists that the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum is valid even as the opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP cited irregularities in the exercise, including the use of unstamped ballot papers.
Despite the protests, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nurettin Canikli, said the legal changes to introduce the new system could be completed within a year.
New presidential and parliamentary elections are due on 3 November 2019.
Turnout was said to be as high as 85%.
The CHP has demanded a recount of 60% of the votes. Its deputy head said the result should be annulled altogether. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) also challenged the vote.
But Guven said the unstamped ballot papers had been produced by the High Electoral Board and were valid, adding that similar procedure had been used in past elections.
Three of Turkey’s biggest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – all voted No to the constitutional changes.
Opposition supporters took to the streets of Istanbul to bang pots and pans – a traditional form of protest – in a series of noisy demonstrations.
Responding to Sunday’s result, the European Commission urged President Erdogan to respect the closeness of the vote and to “seek the broadest possible national consensus” when considering the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments.
International observers are expected to give their verdict on Monday, which could embolden or weaken the opposition’s case and determine how Turkey’s western allies will respond.
President Erdogan said after the result that Turkey could now hold a referendum on bringing back the death penalty – a move that would end Turkey’s EU negotiations.
Erdogan says the changes are needed to address Turkey’s security challenges after last July’s 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.
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 the coup attempt.
Erdogan assumed the presidency, meant to be a largely ceremonial position, in 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister and under his rule, relations with the EU have deteriorated.
The President sparred bitterly with European governments who banned rallies by his ministers in their countries during the referendum campaign. He called the bans “Nazi acts”.