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Erdogan hails ‘historic’ referendum victory, opposition cries foul

© Adem Altan, AFP | A supporter of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) party waves a Turkish flag outside the party's headquarters in Ankara, on April 16, 2017.

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2017-04-17

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in Sunday’s constitutional referendum granting him sweeping powers. But the opposition has challenged the razor-thin poll victory.

"Today, Turkey has taken a historic decision," Erdogan told reporters at his official Istanbul residence, the Huber Palace. "With the people, we have realised the most important reform in our history," he added.

But the constitutional referendum changing Turkey’s parliamentary system to a presidential one was won by a razor-thin majority, with the country’s two main opposition parties contesting the results.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, the “Yes” camp won 51.3 percent, winning with a margin of 1.3 million votes in this transcontinental nation of 80 million people. The head of Turkey's Higher Electoral Board on Sunday said final results would be released after 11 or 12 days.

Reporting from the capital, Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer noted that, “Just over a million votes separated 'Yes' and 'No'. With a result that close, you can be sure that Erdogan would not have won if he had allowed equal time on television for the 'No', and had given equal space in street advertising, and had not put pressure on clerics in the mosques to steer their congregations towards 'Yes'. If the campaign had been fair, the 'No' would have won.”

In the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, campaigning was very lopsided, with critics noting that the government used state finances and media to aid the “Yes” message while intimidating the “No” camp.

>> Click here for FRANCE 24’s Webdoc, ‘Turkey: The Great Purge’ <<

The narrow victory margin likely prompted the president to strike a rare conciliatory tone at a news conference in Istanbul hours after polls closed. Erdogan usually delivers triumphant balcony speeches, but at his news conference Sunday night, the Turkish president thanked all voters, regardless of their choices.

"April 16 is the victory of all who said 'Yes' or 'No', of the whole 80 million, of the whole of Turkey’s 780,000-square kilometres," said Erdogan.

‘Erdogan actually lost today’

Turkey’s main opposition parties, the secular CHP (Republican Peoples' Party) and the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) however have challenged the results, claiming voter fraud and irregularities.

A decision by Turkey's Higher Election Board to accept ballot papers that did not have the official stamp drew strong condemnation from opposition supporters who have questioned the legitimacy of Sunday’s vote.

'Erdogan would not have won had it been a fair campaign'

"The Higher Election Board has thrown a dark shadow on the people's decision. They have caused the referendum's legitimacy to be questioned," said CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The CHP has said it will challenge 37 percent of the ballot box results while the HDP plans to contest two-thirds of the ballot boxes.

>> Click here to follow Sunday’s events as they unfolded <<

The close results reflected the deep divisions within Turkey and will further erode Erdogan’s standing in the international community, noted Henri Barkey, director of the Washington DC-based Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.

“I think Erdogan actually lost today. He lost because this referendum campaign was the most unfair Turkey has ever had,” said Barkey in an interview with FRANCE 24. “This was a very unfair election. The problem for Erdogan is the following: This is the first time in Turkish modern history, ever since Turkey went to elections in 1946, that election results have been seen as suspicious. Until now, Turks have never had any reason to doubt election results because elections were always clean, no matter who won, no matter the circumstances…There is going to be a cloud of suspicion over him [Erdogan] and he has lost a lot of credibility abroad. In that sense, he won maybe, but he actually lost in the long term.”

Divided nation, divided reactions

Reactions to Sunday’s results were also mixed, with supporters of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) celebrating on the streets of Istanbul as the counting was winding down.

But in opposition-dominated districts of the city, residents took to their balconies and windows clanging pots and pans in a traditional display of dissent.

The mood was also sombre in the Kurdish-majority, southeastern province of Diyarbakir, where two people were killed in a gunfight in a village school which was being used as a polling station. While the cause of the clash was not clear, witnesses said it was sparked by a political dispute.

The arrests of senior HDP officials severely curtailed the party’s ability to campaign for a “No” vote in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote.

While HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas is in jail, his wife, Basak, cast her vote earlier Sunday in Diyarbakir. "I hope that the result of this referendum will help our people move on the path of peace, democracy and freedom," she said.

Polling data also showed a divided nation, with the “No” camp winning in the western coastal regions and the Kurdish-majority southeast. The central Anatolian heartland stayed firmly in the “Yes” camp.

With the victory of the “Yes” vote, the office of the prime minister will be scrapped after the next election in 2019. Instead, the president will have the power to appoint one of several vice presidents.

The raft of 18 constitutional amendments approved by Turkish voters hands over all executive power to the president, as well as tremendously increasing his powers in the legislative and judicial branches of government. 

Video: The Turkish president's new powers

Date created : 2017-04-16

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