Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in a referendum to increase his powers as opposition parties contested the result.
With 98 percent of ballots counted, Turks approved the most radical constitutional overhaul since the republic was founded 93 years ago by 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. Erdogan will have authority to appoint ministers and top judges at his discretion and call elections at any time.
As Erdogan was declaring victory for the “Yes” camp, broad swathes of the opposition were alleging foul play. Erdal Aksunger, the deputy head of the CHP, the largest opposition bloc, said 2.5 million votes were “problematic” and that the state-run Anadolu Agency was “manipulating” results, announcing totals that were different from the official tally.
Turkey’s High Election Board decided on Sunday that ballot papers without the usual stamps typically indicating they’re authentic can be counted unless they’re proven to have been brought in from outside.
Given the overall thin margin in favor of “Yes,” recriminations about fraud and government meddling are already casting a shadow over Erdogan’s win, Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm, said by e-mail as results were coming in.
He’s been setting the stage for this vote since winning the presidency in 2014 and turning what was a largely ceremonial role into a nexus of authority. In the process, he quashed protests and muzzled critics in the media, undermining civil liberties in the majority-Muslim nation. Under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the coup attempt, Erdogan fired more than 100,000 people and jailed 40,000, among them academics, journalists and judges.
As in previous elections in recent years, campaigning has been heavily lopsided in favor of the government. Erdogan and the governing AKP got more than 68 hours of air time to make their case on state-run television during the first three weeks of March, nearly 20 times that allotted to the main opposition party CHP, according to a study by the pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP, whose leadership has been jailed. The HDP got only one minute, its deputy head Saruhan Oluc said.
There have also been reports of intimidation. During the week before the vote, some employers asked workers to bring photographic evidence of a “yes” vote or face repercussions, according to Kani Beko, head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, known as DISK.
Opposition to an even more powerful presidency brought out voters such as Kerem Sener of Ankara. “We are here to say ‘no’ to a proposal that is out of line with the founding principles of our republic,” he said at a polling station in the capital’s Cankaya district. “We are children of the republic and we would like our child to grow up in the same way.”
On the other hand, voter Mert Yalcin, 24, concurred with Erdogan’s position that broader powers would make the country stronger. “I voted ‘yes’ because I think the country needs a more stable administration while we’re surrounded by threats from all directions,” he said.
Erdogan, voting in Istanbul on Sunday, said approving the measures would lead to a “leap”for Turkey, tying them to faster development and higher economic growth rates.
In recent years, Erdogan’s clampdown and attempts to meddle in central bank policy have alienated foreign investors, with the lira losing a fifth of its value since the botched coup alone. Turkey’s once-booming economy has stalled as terrorist attacks drove away tourists and unemployment climbed to seven-year highs.
Many investors, though, say if he wins a popular mandate to formalize his grip on power, markets will bounce back, at least in the short term. A rejection of the referendum, on the other hand, could spark a selloff because it will pave the way for Erdogan to seek early elections to try to secure a more sympathetic parliament and push through the executive presidency that way.
The vote positions Erdogan’s political base spanning the country’s vast rural heartland against cosmopolitan antagonists on the coasts and in Istanbul — a global crossroads for centuries. A victory would echo the same conservative, nationalistic forces that powered Donald Trump to the White House, pushed Britain out of the EU and put Marine Le Pen within shouting distance of the French presidency.