ANKARA, Turkey (AP and combined sources) — Turkey’s main opposition party on Monday urged the country’s electoral board to cancel the results of a landmark referendum that granted sweeping new powers to the nation’s president, citing what it called substantial voting irregularities. The Communist Party of Turkey, or TKP, also issued a strong statement, saying: “The referendum results… do not have any legitimacy. Those who attempt to celebrate this result mock the people.”
An international observer mission that monitored the voting also found irregularities, saying the conduct of Sunday’s referendum “fell short” of the international standards. It specifically criticized a decision by Turkey’s electoral board to accept ballots that did not have official stamps, saying that undermined safeguards against fraud.
Turkey’s electoral board confirmed the “yes” victory in the referendum and said the final results would be declared in 11-12 days. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the “yes” side stood at 51.4 percent of the vote, while the “no” vote saw 48.6 percent support.
The margin could cement President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hold on power in Turkey for a decade and is expected to have a huge effect on the country’s long-term political future and its international relations. Opponents had argued the constitutional changes give too much power to a man they say has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies.
“I suspect the result was narrower than what Erdogan expected,” said Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of Middle East History at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. However, he added, “Erdogan has ruled with a narrow victory before. He does not see a narrow victory as anything less than a mandate. His tendency has been not to co-opt the opposition but to crush it.”
Opposition parties cried foul on the vote.
Bulent Tezcan, deputy chairman of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, cited numerous problems in the conduct of the vote.
An unprecedented electoral board decision to accept as valid ballots that didn’t bear the official stamp has led to outrage.
Normally for a ballot to be considered valid, it must bear the official stamp on the back, be put into an envelope that also bears an official stamp and be handed to the voter by an electoral official at a polling station. The system is designed to ensure that only one vote is cast per registered person and to avoid the possibility of ballot box-stuffing.
The board announced Sunday, however, that it would accept unstamped envelopes as valid after many voters complained about being handed blank envelopes that did not bear the official stamp. The board said the ballot papers would be considered invalid only if it was proven they were fraudulently cast.
“There is only one way to end the discussions about the vote’s legitimacy and to put the people at ease, and that is for the Supreme Electoral Board to cancel the vote,” Tezcan said. The TKP added: “This election has the marks of tyranny and cheating. The decision of Supreme Committee of Elections to accept unsealed voting papers and envelops as valid does not fit in[sic] any lawful or impartial concepts.”
Tezcan said it was not possible for authorities to determine how many ballot papers may have been irregularly cast.
Tana de Zuleta of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the vote, said the ballot decision undermined important safeguards against fraud and contradicted Turkey’s own laws.
The monitoring group described a series of irregularities in the referendum, including a skewed pre-vote campaign in favor of the “yes” vote, the intimidation of the “no” campaign and the fact that the referendum question was not listed on the ballot.
De Zuleta said overall, the procedures “fell short of full adherence” to the standards Turkey has signed up for. The OSCE cannot sanction Turkey for its conduct of the vote but it can suggest recommendations.
The referendum approves 18 constitutional amendments that will replace Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance with a presidential one.
The changes allow the president to appoint ministers, senior government officials and half the members of Turkey’s highest judicial body, as well as to issue decrees and declare states of emergency. They set a limit of two five-year terms for presidents.
The new presidential system takes effect at the next election, currently slated for 2019. Other changes will take effect sooner, including an amendment that scraps a clause requiring the president to be impartial, allowing Erdogan to regain membership of the ruling party he founded – or even to lead it.
The referendum campaign was highly divisive and heavily one-sided, with the “yes” side dominating the airwaves and billboards. Supporters of the “no” vote complained of intimidation, including beatings, detentions and threats.
CHP legislator Utku Cakirozer told The Associated Press his party would file official objections Monday to results at local electoral board branches, before taking their case to the Supreme Electoral Board.
“At the moment, this is a dubious vote,” he said.
The country’s pro-Kurdish party said it may take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if the electoral board does not reverse its decision and nullify the ballots lacking the official stamps.
The TKP issued a call to action for the Turkish people to organize and protest the results. “TKP calls [on] our people to be on alert, not to accept fait accompli and with this aim, to organize.”