Turkish referendum: President Erdogan defiant in face of accusations of voting ‘illegitimacy’ at home and abroad

Supporters of ‘yes’ vote in referendum granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers dismiss claims of rule-bending from opposition and international monitors

Tuesday 18 April 2017 17:32 BST
Protests against the results of the referendum in Istanbul, which voted "No"
Protests against the results of the referendum in Istanbul, which voted "No" (Reuters)

While the majority of ballots cast in Turkey’s controversial referendum have now been counted, the country’s opposition has made it clear they will not accept the "yes" result without a fight.

The Republican People's Party (CHP) said on Tuesday it has filed paperwork requesting that the narrow 51.3 per cent vote in favour of constitutional reform that will make President Recep Tayyip Erdogan much more powerful be annulled because of voting irregularities which made it “illegitimate”.

Hundreds of people queued and protested outside the Turkish election board’s offices in Ankara and Istanbul to demand a controversial last-minute decision during Sunday's referendum to accept ballots without official stamps verifying them as genuine was overturned.

Turkey's president Recep Erdogan wins referendum to greatly expand powers

Both Turkey’s bar association and international election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the illegal move may have swung the knife-edge vote, which will give Mr Erdogan the power to appoint and fire ministers, name half the members of the country's highest judicial body, hold the leadership of a political party while in office, and possibly stay in power until 2029.

“It is clear that the High Electoral Board is not receiving its power from the people, the law or the constitution but rather from a specific centre, a specific political authority,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said in a speech, accusing the body of “changing the rules mid-game.”

The OSCE slammed the election authorities' handling of the referendum, blaming a “lack of equal opportunities, one-sided media coverage, and limitations on fundamental freedoms” for creating an “unlevel playing field” in the campaigning and voting process.

“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said in a statement.

While EU Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said the political body was encouraging “Turkey to move closer to the European Union again, and not to move even further and faster away from us,” the country’s EU ambassador Omer Celik lashed out at what he said were “politically motivated” comments.

Mr Erdogan himself also harshly rebuked critics in a speech to supporters on the steps of his palace on Monday.

“The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us,” he said. “We neither see, hear, nor acknowledge the political reports you'll prepare.

“We'll continue on our path. Talk to the hand. This country has carried out the most democratic elections, not seen anywhere in the West.”

Turkish-European relations have become increasingly strained amid concerns over Mr Erdogan’s human rights record and diplomatic spats over campaigning rules for expatriate Turks living in Germany and the Netherlands ahead of the weekend’s vote.

On Monday Mr Erdogan reiterated his position that in light of the narrow "yes" victory Turkey could both break off its decades-long bid to accede to the EU and reinstate the death penalty.

Capital punishment is the “reddest of all red lines,” EU Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said, and such a decision would be a “clear signal that Turkey does not want to be a member of the European family.“

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