Turkey’s Erdogan claims victory in vote to boost president’s powers

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory Sunday night after a majority of Turkish voters appeared to have granted the president sweeping new powers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote Sunday at a polling station in Instanbul for a referendum on the constitutional reform. Photo by Tolga Bozoglu/EPA
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote Sunday at a polling station in Instanbul for a referendum on the constitutional reform. Photo by Tolga Bozoglu/EPA

With more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, 51.34 percent voted “yes” to increase Erdogan’s role — 24,789,242 votes — compared with 48.667 percent that cast “no” — 23,499,390 — in the 18-article proposal, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The turnout was 87 percent.

Anadolu reported that Erdogan had called Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and the leaders of the right-wing National Movement Party and Great Unity Party to offer “congratulations for the referendum victory.”
In Ankara, thousands of revelers honked their horns and waved Turkish flags along with white flags saying, “Evet” — Turkish for yes — at the headquarters of the political party founded by Erdogan.

Erdogan cast his vote with his wife Emine and other family members at a school near his home in Istanbul.

“This April 16 referendum is not an ordinary voting [process],” Erdogan told reporters said after casting his ballot. “We have had many parliamentary elections in our history as a republic. In the meantime, we have also had referendums. However, this referendum is a decision on a new administrative system, a change and a transformation in the Republic of Turkey. I hope our people will make a decision to pave the way for a quick development. … We need to grow quicker and walk faster.”

Erodgan would be able to appoint cabinet ministers, issue decrees, choose senior judges and dissolve parliament. Also, the change would lower the minimum age for lawmakers to 18 from 25, increase the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 600, close down military courts, and introduce same-day parliamentary and presidential elections every five years.

The prime minister post would be abolished after the 2019 national elections if the referendum passes. Term limits for the president would be changed and Erdogan would be allowed to remain in power until 2029.

The ruling Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party backed the changes.

Parliament previously passed a reform bill 339-142, nine more votes than needed to put the proposal to a referendum.

The High Electoral Board originally announced it would not accept ballots missing ballot commission stamps. But after voting was under way, the board said it would accept unstamped ballots “unless they are proven to have been brought from outside.”

Erdal Aksunger of the Republican People’s Party called for a partial recount.

Also opposing the changes were the Democratic People’s Party. Critics fear the president’s position would be too powerful without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.

More than 55 million people were eligible to vote at 167,000 polling sites between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., depending on the location in the country.

At a polling station in the southeast, two people were shot dead.

The country has been operating under a state of emergency after a failed coup last July.

The failed coup led Erdogan to crack down on his opposition, arresting 47,155 government critics, academics, journalists, military officials and civil servants.

Edogan became president in 2014 after serving as prime minister for more than a decade.

“I believe our people will walk towards the future by making their expected decisions and by casting their votes inside [Turkey] and overseas,” Erdogan said. “I believe in our people’s common sense of democracy and that they will walk towards the future though this common sense.”

By Allen Cone