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Turkey votes to expand presidential powers

Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets supporters as he arrives at Eyup Sultan mosque in Istanbul on Monday.

The Associated Press ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a historic referendum Sunday that will greatly expand the powers of his office, although opposition parties questioned the outcome and said they would challenge the results.

With nearly all ballots counted, the “yes” vote stood at 51.41 percent, while the “no” vote was 48.59 percent, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The head of Turkey’s electoral board confirmed the “yes” victory and said final results would be declared in 11-12 days.

Although the margin fell short of the sweeping victory Erdogan had sought in the landmark referendum, it could nevertheless cement his hold on power in Turkey and is expected to have a huge effect on the country’s long-term political future and its international relations.

The 18 constitutional amendments that will come into effect after the next election, scheduled for 2019, will abolish the office of the prime minister and hand sweeping executive powers to the president.

The changes will allow the president to appoint ministers, senior government officials and half the members of Turkey’s highest judicial body, as well as to issue decrees and declare states of emergency. They set a limit of two five-year terms for presidents and also allow the president to remain at the helm of a political party.

Erdogan, who first came to power in 2003 as prime minister, had argued a “Turkish-style” presidential system would bring stability and prosperity to a country rattled by a failed coup last year that left more than 200 people dead, and a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and Kurdish militants.

In his first remarks from Istanbul after the vote count showed the amendments winning approval, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone, thanking all voters no matter how they cast their ballots and calling the referendum a “historic decision.”

“April 16 is the victory of all who said ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ of the whole 80 million, of the whole of Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters in a live televised address.

But he quickly reverted to a more abrasive style when addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters in Istanbul.

“There are those who are belittling the result. They shouldn’t try, it will be in vain,” he said. “It’s too late now.”

Responding to chants from the crowd to reinstate the death penalty, Erdogan said he would take up the issue with the country’s political leaders, adding that the question could be put to another referendum if the political leaders could not agree.

He also took a dig at international critics. During the referendum campaign, Ankara’s relations soured with some European countries, notably Germany and the Netherlands. Erdogan branded officials in the two nations as Nazis for not allowing his ministers to campaign for the expatriate vote there.

“We want other countries and organizations to show respect to the decision of our people. We expect countries that we accept as our allies to show more sensitivity to our fight against terrorism,” he said.

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