Turkey’s Erdogan celebrates referendum win as opposition challenges result

With political tensions once again escalating in Turkey after a contest opponents fear will hand Erdogan one man rule, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for dialogue to seek calm.

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The referendum was seen as crucial not just for shaping the political system of Turkey but also the future strategic direction of a nation that has been a NATO member since 1952 and an EU hopeful for half a century.

The ‘Yes’ camp won 51.41 per cent in Sunday’s referendum on a new presidential system and ‘No’ 48.59, according to near-complete results released by the election authorities.

But Erdogan’s victory was far tighter than expected, emerging only after several nail-biting hours late Sunday which saw the ‘No’ result dramatically catch up in the later count.

Turkey’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – all voted ‘No’ although ‘Yes’ prevailed in Erdogan’s Anatolian heartland.

With the opposition crying foul over alleged violations, all eyes will be on Monday afternoon’s announcement by international observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe who will give their initial assessment of the vote.

Watch: Skuffles and protests following Turkish referendum

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“On April 17, we have woken up to a new Turkey,” wrote the pro-government Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi.

“The ‘Yes’ was victorious but the people have sent messages to the government and opposition that need to be carefully considered.”

The new system is due to come into effect after elections in November 2019.

However the parliament faction chief of the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP), Mustafa Elitas said Erdogan would his month get an offer to rejoin that party he founded but had to leave when he became president — under the last constitution a supposedly apolitical role.

Watch: Turkey’s PM thanks people for win

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‘Polls invalid’

In a bid to get back to business, Erdogan was on Monday to chair a cabinet and security meeting at his presidential palace that could extend the nine-month state of emergency brought in after the July 15 failed coup, Turkish media said.

But the opposition were not content to rest on their better-than-expected performance despite a lopsided campaign in which the ‘Yes’ camp enjoyed vastly greater resources and dominated the airwaves.

Huge crowd outside President #Erdogan’s #Istanbul compound letting off flares + fireworks. He thanked them via telephone held up to mic pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/sJPNih1ean

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) April 16, 2017

Both the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said they would challenge the results from most of the ballot boxes due to alleged violations.

“There is only one decision to ease the situation in the context of the law – the Supreme Election Board (YSK) should annul the election,” the Dogan news agency quoted CHP deputy leader Bulent Tezcan as saying.

The opposition were particularly incensed by a decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to allow voting papers without official stamps to be counted, which they said opened the way for fraud.

Watch: Erdogan’s ‘first job’ after Turkey referendum win

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“The Higher Election Board has thrown a shadow on the people’s decision. They have caused the referendum’s legitimacy to be questioned,” said CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Monitors from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) are to give their own assessment of the vote at 1200 GMT.

Overnight sporadic protests by disgruntled ‘No’ voters erupted in parts of Istanbul, with demonstrators banging pots and pans to voice their discontent.

“A victory of the nation,” said the headline in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily. “Turkey has won.”

But the Cumhuriyet opposition daily focused on the alleged violations: “A shadow fell over the ballot boxes,” it said.

Reviving the death penalty?

Throughout the campaign, Erdogan launched bitter attacks on the European Union, accusing member states of behaving like the Third Reich in failing to allow his ministers to campaign among expats.

The initial reaction from Turkey’s Western allies was far from ebullient, with top EU officials saying Turkey had to find the “broadest possible” agreement on the changes in view of the closeness of the result.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel that Berlin expects Ankara will now “seek respectful dialogue with all political and social forces in the country.”

In an indication more strife with Brussels could be in the offing, Erdogan said he would now hold talks on reinstating capital punishment, a move that would automatically end Turkey’s EU bid.

If the opposition failed to support such a bill, he said another referendum could be held on reinstating the death penalty.

The French president’s office on Monday warned reviving capital punishment would be a break with European values.

“The organisation of a referendum on the death penalty would obviously be a break with (the) values and engagements which were accepted by Turkey when it joined Europe’s top rights watchdog, the Council of Europe,” the presidency said.

The new system would dispense with the office of prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

It would also mean that Erdogan, who became president in 2014, could seek two more five-year terms leaving him in power until 2029.

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