(CNSNews.com) – In a victory for Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish voters have decided by a narrow margin to usher in constitutional changes giving the president far-reaching new powers, after a campaign marked by tensions between NATO’s only Muslim member-state and European partners.
The deep divisions at home were reflected in the unofficial result early Monday morning – 51.4 percent voted yes, 48.6 voted no. Of some 48.9 million valid votes cast (a turnout of around 85 percent), the difference between the camps was about 1.37 million votes, the state news agency Anadolu reported.
A majority of voters in Turkey’s three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, voted “no.”
Also voting against the changes were Turks based in the United States, where of just over 20,000 Turkish voters, 83.2 percent voted “no.”
Of Turks eligible to vote in Western Europe, by contrast, sizeable majorities voted for the changes. In Germany and the Netherlands, whose governments clashed with Erdogan over attempts to promote the “yes” vote among Turks living there, 63.2 percent and 69.9 percent respectively voted “yes.”
The 18-point proposal will move Turkey from a parliamentary to an executive presidential system – one that critics fear will be short on checks and balances and could compromise judicial independence.
Looming large over the process and feeding those fears has been the incumbent president, whose autocratic tendencies and crackdown on dissent – some have described it as a purge of potential rivals – have set off alarm bells around the world.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since becoming prime minister in 2003, serving in that post until 2014 when he was elected president. Under the changes, should he wish to, he could remain at the helm until 2029. (From 2019, the post of prime minister will be abolished.)
In contrast to his fiery and often provocative rhetoric during the campaign – when he accused some European governments of acting like Nazis and lumped his domestic opponents with terrorists – Erdogan’s victory speech was relatively subdued.
He thanked citizens for participating however they voted, and called the outcome “a major sign that our nation is protecting its future.”
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) promoted the “yes” vote while the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) opposed the changes.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told supporters late Sunday that the referendum had been held under unfair circumstances. Among other concerns, the official electoral body controversially announced after voting began Sunday that it would accept unsealed ballot papers.
The E.U.’s executive Commission responded to the unofficial results by appealing to the Turkish government to seek national consensus as the changes move ahead.
“In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation,” it said.
The E.U. Commission also said it was awaiting the evaluation of international observers with regard to the voting exercise and “alleged irregularities.”
Turkey more than a decade ago began a lengthy process of seeking membership of the E.U., but some observers feel Erdogan’s autocratic behavior and crackdown after a failed coup attempt last year, and his verbal attacks on key E.U. members like Germany, have set back its campaign.
The U.S. has historically supported Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union.
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