WASHINGTON, D.C. – Shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed a decisive victory in Sunday’s highly controversial referendum vote to expand his powers, he issued a stern warning to opposition parties that their efforts to “belittle” the election results would “be in vain.”
According to the Associated Press, Erdoğan made the announcement outside of his Istanbul residence.
Erdoğan’s official comments, carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency, do not appear to carry the tone of his remarks published by the Associated Press. “I would like to thank all our citizens, regardless of how they voted, who went to the polling stations to protect their national will,” Erdoğan’s official statement reportedly read. “For first time in the republic’s history, Turkey changed its governmental system through civilian means.”
Results carried by Anadolu showed the “yes” vote had about 51.4 percent compared to 48.6 percent for the “no” vote, with nearly 99 percent of the vote counted. The AP reported that the head of Turkey’s electoral board defended the decision to accept ballots without official stamps as valid.
Erdoğan also claimed turnout for the referendum was 86 percent.
BREAKING: Turkey's President Erdogan says voter turnout for referendum expanding his powers was 86 percent.
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 16, 2017
Opposition parties like the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) contested the results and demanded recounts. The HDP took to Twitter, calling for recounts and stating that it would appeal two-thirds of the votes.
#Baydemir: Yetkililer, sonucu ilan etmede aceleci davranmamalıdır. Çünkü alelacele yapılacak açıklamalar, şaibe boyutunu güçlendirecektir.
— HDP (@HDPgenelmerkezi) April 16, 2017
According to the Daily Sabah, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has similarly demanded a recount of 40 percent of the votes.
Sabah, which is pro-Erdogan, noted, “data showed that Turkey’s three biggest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – as well as the predominantly Kurdish southeast, voted ‘No.’ However, the ‘Yes’ campaign still performed better than expected in the southeast where the region heavily voted for pro-PKK HDP in the general elections in 2015.”
The HDP’s support for Kurdish minorities and left-wing politics have brought accusations by Erdoğan supporters that they support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist group. The HDP’s leaders, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, are both in prison facing charges of aiding a terrorist group.
Sunday’s election eliminates the office of prime minister (currently held by Binali Yildirim) and replaces the parliamentary system with an executive presidency that Erdoğan’s supporters claim will modernize the nation. Under Erdoğan, the government has become increasingly Islamist, distancing itself from the secular form of government pushed forth by the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The referendum also allows Erdoğan to appoint one or several vice presidents.
The Washington Post further notes that the changes to Turkey’s constitution would mean that “Erdoğan will be allowed to run for re-election in 2019 and serve two five-year terms – cementing, in the minds of many here, his status as the most consequential leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.” In practice, Erdoğan could remain in office until 2029.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News last month, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said President Erdoğan currently wields significant power but “no accountability” and claimed that Sunday’s referendum was designed to change that.
“The current constitution gives a lot of powers to the president, but without any accountability and any responsibility, and no judicial supervision,” Çavuşoğlu told Breitbart News. He stated that the referendum would both place greater responsibility on the president while increasing the power of parliament. He also claimed that “the president will be [held] accountable” and that he will be vested with a large amount of responsibility should the referendum pass. “The power will go to the people, not anybody else,” Çavuşoğlu said.
News also broke Sunday that Erdoğan plans to “take up” the issue of reinstating the death penalty; a point he addressed to a crowd of his supporters chanting in favor of reinstating the punishment. According to the newspaper Hurriyet, the death penalty has not been in effect since 1984, and the nation officially abolished it in 2004. However, Erdoğan, who has spoken about restoring capital punishment as a legal sentence for over a year now, saw the April 16 referendum which consolidates his power as an opportunity to reinstate it.
BREAKING: Erdogan to "take up" issue of reinstating death penalty with Turkey's political leaders, may seek referendum.
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 16, 2017
At least three people were killed outside a polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir after a feud broke out.
According to a draft of the new constitution, the next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in November 2019.