Friday 15 December 2017

Erdogan rejects voter fraud claims as victory grants him sweeping powers

Supporters of AK party react in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Umit Bektas/Reuters
Supporters of AK party react in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Umit Bektas/Reuters

Raf Sanchez and Burhan Uuksekka

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a narrow victory in yesterday's referendum to give him sweeping new powers, but the country's opposition said it would contest the result over suspicion of voter fraud.

In a dramatic finish to the bitterly fought campaign, the state-run news agency said Mr Erdogan's Yes camp had won around 51pc while the No campaign took 49pc with 98pc of the vote counted.

Mr Erdogan claimed victory in a speech in Istanbul. "This is a historic decision, not an ordinary event," he said. "We are carrying out the most important reform in the history of our nation." A statement from his office said he had "congratulated the prime minister and the chairmen for their campaign work".

However, the opposition CHP party said it was looking to contest 37pc of the ballot boxes over suspicion of vote tampering.

The CHP's protest was based on a decision by the High Electoral Board to accept ballots that had not been officially stamped. The board announced at the last minute it would accept unstamped ballots unless they could be proven to be fraudulent.

"The High Electoral Board has failed by allowing fraud in the referendum," said Bulent Tezcan, CHP deputy chairman. Mr Erdogan's supporters took to the streets in Ankara in celebration.

President Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine in Istanbul. Photo: Murad Sezer/Reuters
President Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine in Istanbul. Photo: Murad Sezer/Reuters

The Yes vote gives Turkey's government the authority to replace the country's century-old parliamentary system with a presidential model. Opponents have warned it will send Turkey lurching towards dictatorship, concentrating power in the hands of Mr Erdogan, who has jailed opponents and cracked down on dissent since last year's failed coup against him.

The new constitutional system will get rid of the role of prime minister and make the president both head of state and head of the government. He will be able to appoint judges, declare a state of emergency, dissolve parliament and in some cases issue laws by decree.

It will also theoretically allow Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since 2003, to stay in office until 2029.

Turnout was high in yesterday's election with more than 86pc of the country's 55 million eligible voters casting ballots. All three of Turkey's largest cities appeared to have voted No, but Mr Erdogan gained enough support in rural areas to claim victory.

At a secondary school polling station in the Kosuyolu neighbourhood of Istanbul, Insaf Akay, a 37-year-old mother in a headscarf, said she was tired of being discriminated against by secular Turks. "I think there will be more freedom for people like me under the new system," she said.

Mustafa Sacat (62) said he normally voted for Mr Erdogan "but I want to keep the Parliament system".

Declaring victory in a speech in Ankara, Binali Yildirim, the Turkish prime minister, also called for unity. "We are one nation, we are one body," he said. "In our democratic history, this is a brand new page."

Irish Independent

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