Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun to set post-referendum strategy for the country after declaring a "clear victory" in the April 16 vote that gave him sweeping new powers but was also challenged as illegitimate by the opposition.
Turkey’s Central Election Committee (CEC) late on April 16 declared "yes" to be the winner with 51.3 percent of the vote in a controversial referendum that included 18 constitutional amendments and that will also allow Erdogan to remain in power until 2029.
The CEC said that with 99 percent of the ballots counted, the referendum was supported by 24.9 million voters against 23.6 million who voted against. Final results will be announced in 11 to 12 days, it said.
"I would like to thank all our citizens, regardless of how they voted, who went to the polling stations to protect their national will," Erdogan said late on April 16. "The entire country has triumphed."
He said his "first task" after the vote would be to take up the issue of bringing back the death penalty, something that would automatically block the heavily divided country’s bid to join the European Union. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its EU bid.
Western nations have expressed concerns about the referendum, saying it would put too much power into the hands of the president.
Erdogan supporters say the changes are needed to establish stability in the country, which is facing unrest by Kurdish groups in eastern Turkey and a flood of refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is demanding a recount of up to 60 percent of the ballots and says it will challenge 37 percent of the ballots that were counted.
The CHP criticized election officials for a last-minute change to the rules about which ballots would be counted in the tightly contested referendum, saying the ruling opened the way for fraud.
Under the ruling, ballot papers that were not officially stamped were still counted as valid unless they were proven to have been brought into the counting process from outside.
CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu said his party would not accept the "yes" vote and that "this referendum brought a truth to light =- at least 50 percent of the people said 'no.'"
Meanwhile, Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said it would challenge two-thirds of the ballots. It claimed there was a vote "manipulation of 3 to 4 percentage points" in favor of expanding presidential powers.
The European Commission said it took note of the results and is awaiting an assessment from the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission in regard to "alleged irregularities."
It said it will assess the implementation of the constitutional amendments in "in light of Turkey's obligations as a European Union candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe."
"We also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation," the EU Commission said.
War Of Words
The amendments would abolish the office of prime minister and give the president the authority on many other matters, including the budget and the declaring of a state of emergency, without parliamentary approval.
Nils Muiznieks, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, on April 12 issued a report expressing "grave concern" that the constitutional revisions would reduce the autonomy of Turkey’s already weak judiciary.
Erdogan has been involved in a brutal war of words with European leaders in the run-up to the referendum and has said Turkey would reassess its desire to join the EU.
Attempts by Erdogan and his allies to stage campaign rallies targeting Turkish voters who live in the EU faced restrictions or cancellations in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland -- leading to diplomatic disputes with Ankara.