Erdogan Declares Victory In Widely Contested Referendum

In a historic vote on Sunday, only a slight majority of voters granted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers that would unwind century-old political system while opposition outcried fraud and widespread irregularities, contesting the result.

In a momentous referendum littered with tension, irregularities and even armed clash in some cases, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory even before the end of the official count by the Supreme Election Board (YSK).

According to the official tally by the Board after more than 99% of the votes counted, the Yes camp won with 51.41% while the No vote stood at 48.59%.

“We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” Mr. Erdogan said during a victory speech. The 18-article constitutional amendment will take effect in 2019 with the new parliamentary and presidential election.

Then the president will assume full control of the government.

“April 16 is the victory of all who said Yes or No, of the entire 80 million, of whole Turkey,” the president said.

He struck a defiant tone in the face of opposition’s pledge to challenge the result. “There are some people who are belittling the result. They should not try, it will be in vain,” the president said. “It’s too late now. It’s done, its over.”

But the opposition appears to be not content with the way the Supreme Election Board dealt with the counting. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), People’s Democracy Party (HDP) and a rebel figure within Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) all contested the result, seeking review of their complaints.

In a last-minute ruling that stunned and rattled the nation, the Election Board decided to count ballots without official stamps as valid unless they could be proved fraudulent.

That sparked fury among the opposition. YSK President Sadi Guven shrugged off criticism, saying that in the past the institution accepted unstamped ballots as valid votes. But as recently as in 2014, during local elections in the southeastern province of Bitlis YSK deemed a number of ballots without official stamps as invalid.

“The YSK changed rules in the middle of the game, after ballot envelopes were opened, in contrary to laws,” CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu fumed in indignation. He said YSK cast doubts over the legitimacy of the referendum.

His fury was shared by pro-Kurdish HDP and other figures, such as renegade nationalist figure Meral Aksener who unleashed her fire against the electoral board.

State-run Anadolu news agency also emerged as a target for public criticism and opposition fire. After the shutdown of Cihan news agency, one of the credible sources of election results over the past two decades, and intimidating Dogan news agency, the government almost made Anadolu as the sole provider of results.

While votes were still being counted, Ms. Aksener challenged Anadolu’s results which gave ‘Yes’ a comfortable lead during much of the night before scaling back Yes figures close to where it finally entrenched, around 51 percent.

Ms. Aksener whose insurgency against MHP Chairman Devlet Bahceli led to a bloody political civil war in the party even once said No was leading Yes with 52%-48%.

But official result gave a Yes camp a victory with a small margin. Aware of what it means, President Erdogan warned against any questioning of the vote.

“We want other countries and organizations to show respect to the decision of our people,” he said.

But the slow margin was not lost on AKP elites who expected a clear-cut, resounding victory. Deputy Prime Minister told media that the level of support was lower than they expected.

More than 55 millions of eligible voters cast their votes on what seems a systemic change, giving vast powers to President Erdogan.

The Turkish president vowed to bring back death penalty during his victory speech. He said if he will take the issue with opposition leaders and there could be another referendum on death penalty if there is no political accord between politicians.

Even according to Anadolu news agency, in major big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Adana, No vote won.

Polling stations around the country were closed at 5:00 p.m. Immediately after that counting of the votes began.

Supporters were jubilant when they saw President Erdogan as he voted at a polling station near his home in Istanbul earlier in the day.

“God willing I believe our people will decide to open path to much more rapid development,” President Erdogan said after casting his vote.

In a break with his previous tense tone, President Erdogan expressed respect for people’s preferences.

“I believe in my people’s democratic common sense.”

Imprisoned lawmakers of People’s Democracy Party (HDP) cast their vote in prison. The vote saw constant irregularities and occurrence of violence.

Three people were killed in a shootout in a village in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir when an armed clash broke out between relatives. All of the killed were naysayers, with authorities investigating the origins of the fighting.

Authorities say the skirmish erupted over a political discussion about the vote.

Another widespread violation of voting was the ignorance of the rule that requires people to keep their votes private, in sealed ballots. Thousands of people, including lawmakers, took picture of their voting, either Yes or No, and cast their ballots openly in front of election officials at polling station instead of secret vote.

Journalist Ali Bayramoglu was attacked by a group of 30 supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) when he went to a polling station in Istanbul.

In social media, voluntary monitors reported hundreds of irregularities at polling stations across the country, while electricity cuts in several schools in Ankara and other cities hampered vote counting.

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