April 16 (UPI) — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory Sunday night after a majority of Turkish voters appeared to have granted the president sweeping new powers.
With more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, 51.34 percent voted “yes” to increase Erdogan’s role — 24,789,242 votes — compared with 48.667 percent that cast “no” — 23,499,390 — in the 18-article proposal, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The turnout was 87 percent.
“God willing, these results will be the beginning of a new era in our country,” Erdogan said at a news conference Sunday night.
In Ankara, thousands of revelers honked their horns and waved Turkish flags along with white flags saying, “Evet” — Turkish for yes — at the headquarters of the political party founded by Erdogan.
Erdogan cast his vote with his wife, Emine, and other family members at a school near his home in Istanbul.
“This April 16 referendum is not an ordinary voting [process],” Erdogan told reporters said after casting his ballot. “We have had many parliamentary elections in our history as a republic. In the meantime, we have also had referendums. However, this referendum is a decision on a new administrative system, a change and a transformation in the Republic of Turkey. I hope our people will make a decision to pave the way for a quick development. … We need to grow quicker and walk faster.”
Erodgan would be able to appoint cabinet ministers, issue decrees, choose senior judges and dissolve parliament. Also, the change would lower the minimum age for lawmakers to 18 from 25, increase the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 600, close down military courts, and introduce same-day parliamentary and presidential elections every five years.
The prime minister post would be abolished after the 2019 national elections if the referendum passes. Term limits for the president would be changed and Erdogan would be allowed to remain in power until 2029.
The ruling Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party backed the changes.
Parliament previously passed a reform bill 339-142, nine more votes than needed to put the proposal to a referendum.
The High Electoral Board originally announced it would not accept ballots missing ballot commission stamps. But after voting was under way, the board said it would accept unstamped ballots “unless they are proven to have been brought from outside.”