Turks Head to Polls in Pivotal Referendum on Presidential Powers

Turks Head to Polls in Pivotal Referendum on Presidential Powers

As voting comes to an end, Turkish media outlets began reporting today (Sunday) about the initial results of the referendum vote, in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested to significantly expand his power.

Opposition figures, however, vowed to challenge numerous ballots in the tight race.

Supporters of constitutional changes that seek to extend the powers of Turkey's presidential office have gained an early lead in a referendum that could change how Turkey is governed.

The outcome is expected to have a huge effect on Turkey's long-term political future and its global relations.

With more than 99% of the ballots counted, the yes vote was ahead, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Still, it would cement his hold on the country's governance. The nation's largest city Istanbul, where the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party Erdogan founded has never lost a general election, looked set to reject it by 51 per cent.

Erdogan called Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist MHP party, which supported the "Yes" vote, to congratulate them, presidential sources said.

But many also fear that the new system will endanger democracy in Turkey - a key USA ally and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member.

The main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP) cast his vote in Ankara.

He also said he believed in the people's sense of democracy.

The country's pro-Kurdish opposition party, which also opposed the constitutional changes, says it plans to object to two-thirds of the ballots.

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) on Sunday said that voting papers not stamped by the board will be counted valid unless proven to be brought from outside, in a controversial announcement.

Anadolu said the suspects were detained in the cities of Adana, Malatya and Trabzon by police who were waiting at polling stations for them to cast their votes.

On Sunday, voters decided whether to approve sweeping constitutional changes that will change the country's system of government from parliamentary to presidential, and grant Erdogan even more authority.

The president will be able to appoint senior judges, declare a state of emergency, dissolve parliament and in some cases issue new laws be decree.

As prime minister, Erdogan garnered support from Turkey's Kurdish minority, which is estimated to make up about one-fifth of the country's population of 80 million people.

Opponents and critics of the proposed changes fear the move would make the president's position too powerful, arguing that it would amount to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.

In the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir, voter Mehmet Sayar didn't say which way he voted, but added: "I hope the result will be the best for our country because this referendum will determine the future of our children". "Do we want a democratic parliamentary system or do we want a one-man regime?"

"Yes, yes, yes. Our leader is the gift of God to us", said Mualla Sengul.

Supporters found in him a man who gave a voice to the working- and middle-class religious Turks who long had felt marginalized by the country's Western-leaning elite. "He's governing so well".

The changes include abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AP reports that supporters of the "yes" vote have dominated the airwaves, while supporters of the "no" vote have complained of intimidation.

"I cast my "Yes" vote as conservative Muslim against infidels who are threatening Turkey".