Erdogan declares referendum victory, his opponents plan challenge

Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, declared victory in a referendum on Sunday to grant him sweeping, but opponents said the vote was caused by countless irregularities and they would challenge its result.

Turkey’s three main cities, including the capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul, set to vote “No” after a bitter and divisive campaign.

According to the president 25 million people had supported the proposal to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidency, voting “Yes” and giving 51.5 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, thousands of flag-waving supporters rallied in Ankara and Istanbul in celebration.

Erdogan said: “For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics,” referring to the military coups which marred Turkish politics for decades. “That is why it is very significant.”

We all remember that Erdogan himself survived a failed coup attempt last July, responding with a crackdown that has seen 47,000 people detained and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

In Ankara Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addressed cheering supporters, trough the city convoys of cars honking horns clogged a main avenue as they headed towards the AK Party’s headquarters, their passengers waving flags from the windows.

On the other hand, opposition Republican People’s Party official (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said the legitimacy of the referendum was open to question and those who supported a “Yes” vote may have gone beyond the boundaries of the law. The opposition earlier stated it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes after Turkey’s High Electoral Board (YSK) announced it would count ballots which had not been stamped by its officials as valid unless they could be proved fraudulent.

With his actions, Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of seeking a “one-man regime”, and said the proposed changes would put the country in danger.

Opposite to the cheering crowds, in some affluent neighborhoods in Istanbul, people took to the streets in protest while others banged pots and pans at home – a sign of dissent that was widespread during anti-Erdogan protests in 2013.

On the topic of the referendum,european politicians, however, who have had increasingly strained relations with Turkey, expressed concern. Or more clearly, relations hit a low during the referendum campaign when EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies in support of the changes. The Turkish president called the moves “Nazi acts” and said Turkey could reconsider ties with the European Union after many years of seeking EU membership.

After the referendum, Erdogan repeated his intention to review Turkey’s suspension of the death penalty, a step which would almost certainly spell the end of Ankara’s EU accession process. “I will immediately discuss this issue with Yildirim and (nationalist party head) Devlet Bahceli,” Erdogan said. If presented with a proposal, he would approve it, the president said, adding he could also put it to another referendum.

The referendum has bitterly divided the nation. Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.