Turkey referendum Erdogan Wins More Power

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory on Sunday in a controversial referendum to tighten his heavy grip on Turkey, dismissing criticism by opposition parties that challenged the outcome of the vote.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waved to supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday narrowly won a contentious constitutional referendum that will greatly expand his powers.

About 51.3 percent of the 58.2 million Turks eligible to cast their ballot voted to replace the country’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency. The “No” camp garnered more than 48.7 percent, the Turkish electoral commission announced on Sunday night after 99 percent of votes were counted.

The vote was fairly clear among the nearly 3 million Turkish passport holders living across Europe. After half of the ballots in Germany were counted, more than 63 percent voted “Yes,” Turkish news agency Anadolu reported Sunday night.

We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history. Erdogan Recep Tayyip, Turkish President

Support from Turks in Austria was even greater, at 72.3 percent, after about one fifth of votes were counted, according to Anadolu. Results will take days or even weeks to be officially confirmed.

But Mr. Erdogan already declared his victory on Sunday. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he told a gathering of supporters in Istanbul.

Supporters of the constitutional reform claim it will modernize the country by strengthening the executive arm of government. But critics fear it will greatly boost Mr. Erdogan’s personal power, pushing Turkey on the brink of authoritarianism.

The results drew immediate opposition. Protesters took to the streets in Istanbul, hammering on pans to make noise, after Mr. Erdogan’s AKP party declared a win for the “Yes” camp. Result breakdowns suggest that Istanbul and other large cities largely rejected the reform.

Two opposition parties already announced they would not recognize the referendum’s result and demanded a recount of several million ballot papers.

The main opposition party CHP criticized the decision to accept unstamped ballot papers, and said it would challenge 37 percent of ballot boxes, which contain about 2.5 million votes.

"This referendum brought a truth to light - at least 50 percent of the people said ‘No,’” CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdarogl said.

The pro-Kurdish HDP said it would even challenge up to two thirds of the votes cast. The party’s official account also tweeted: “Our data indicates a manipulation in the range of 3 to 4 percent.”

German politician, for the most part, expressed their disappointment about the results.

Julia Klöckner, the deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union party,  said there is no way for Turkey to join the European Union after the referendum. “The door to EU accession is closed for good, and financial assistance to enable a possible accession to the EU are now void too,” she wrote in an op-ed for the German Huffington Post.

Green Party representative Özcan Mutlu claimed Mr. Erdogan manipulated the election by intimidating the opposition and that the results mean the de facto end of parliamentary democracy and checks and balances. “This is a dark day for Turkey and the European Union,” he told dpa news agency.

Social Democratic Party Chairman Martin Schulz, who will challenge Ms. Merkel in the federal elections in September, tried to take a positive stance, calling on Europe to continue support for democratic practices in the country. “The tight outcome of the referendum shows that Erdogan isn’t Turkey: Commitment to democracy and human rights needs to go on,” he wrote in a tweet.

Mr. Erdogan already grabbed greater power when he declared a state of emergency after a failed coup attempt last summer. Since then, nearly 130,000 judges, police officers and other government officials have been fired or suspended  and about 45,000 people arrested for allegedly being connected to the failed putsch.

On Sunday night after declaring victory, Mr. Erdogan said he would push ahead to re-introduce the death penalty.

Several European leaders have criticized Mr. Erdogan for cleansing the administration and intimidating the opposition. Since February German journalist Deniz Yücel has been detained  for allegedly collaborating with anti-government forces.

But the European Union is dependent on Turkey for stemming the flow of people fleeing Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the editor: [email protected]