Erdogan clinches victory in Turkey referendum as opposition cries foul
OZAN KOSE (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly won a historic referendum on Sunday that will tighten his grip on power, but the knife-edge result left the country bitterly divided and the opposition crying foul.
The sweeping constitutional changes approved in the vote create a presidential system that will grant Erdogan more power than any leader since modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his successor Ismet Inonu.
The 'Yes' campaign won 51.4 percent of the vote against 48.6 percent for 'No', the election commission said in figures quoted by state news agency Anadolu, in a count based on 99.5 percent of the ballot boxes.
As huge crowds of flag-waving supporters celebrated on the streets, Erdogan praised Turkey for taking a "historic decision".
"With the people, we have realized the most important reform in our history," he added.
Supreme Election Board chief Sadi Guven confirmed that the 'Yes' camp had emerged victorious, but the opposition has vowed to challenge the outcome.
The referendum was held under a state of emergency that has seen 47,000 people arrested in an unprecedented crackdown after the failed military coup against Erdogan in July last year.
In a television interview on Friday Erdogan had predicted a far clearer victory saying polls showed a 55-60 percent share of the vote.
But voting patterns showed Turkey deeply divided over the changes, with the 'No' vote victorious in the country's three biggest cities.
Turkey's two main opposition parties said they would challenge the results over alleged violations.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said it would challenge two-thirds of the votes, saying: "There is an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote."
Republican People's Party (CHP) chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the actions of the election authorities "caused the referendum's legitimacy to be questioned".
A statement issued by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that in view of the closeness of the result, the Turkish authorities need to seek the "broadest possible national consensus" for the changes.
"According to the results, it is the 'Yes' that has emerged" victorious, said Supreme Election Board (YSK) chief Sadi Guven, adding that final results would be issued in the next 11 days.
"We would like other countries and institutions to show respect to the decision of the nation," he said, calling allies to now show greater awareness of Turkey's "sensitivities" in the "fight against terror."
The deputy head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Bulent Tezcan, denounced "violations" by the election authorities while another CHP deputy head, Erdal Aksunger, said it could appeal up to 60 percent of the vote.
Turkey's three biggest cities Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir have all voted with a 'No' majority.
"The High Electoral Board has failed by allowing fraud in the referendum," CHP deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan told reporters at the party's headquarters in Ankara.
The result could still change as more ballot boxes are counted across the hugely diverse country following the close of polls at 1400 GMT.
For the changes to be implemented the 'Yes' camp needs to win 50 percent plus one vote