TURKS VOTE FOR CHANGE

Op­po­si­tion party claims fraud in race

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND DAN BOYLAN

Turk­ish vot­ers chose Sun­day to fun­da­men­tally re­struc­ture their gov­ern­ment from par­lia­men­tary rule to a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem that grants sweep­ing pow­ers to Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, the na­tion’s cur­rent ruler and driv­ing force be­hind the change.

While Tur­key’s main op­po­si­tion party claimed fraud in a close na­tion­wide ref­er­en­dum on the change — and the gov­ern­ment’s Supreme Elec­tion Com­mis­sion had yet to an­nounce of­fi­cial re­sults as of Sun­day night — the pres­i­dent de­clared vic­tory on state tele­vi­sion.

For Mr. Er­do­gan, first elected mayor of Is­tan­bul at age 40 and the ar­chi­tect of gen­eral elec­tion wins in 2002, 2007 and 2011 be­fore be­com­ing pres­i­dent in 2014, a ma­jor­ity “Yes” vote on the ref­er­en­dum rep­re­sents the ul­ti­mate con­sol­i­da­tion of power and, his sup­port­ers claim, a ma­jor step needed to move the na­tion for­ward.

If it stands, the vote will mark a rare mo­ment in post-World War II his­tory in which a na­tion once mov­ing to­ward democ­racy seems to have taken a dra­matic step back­ward.

The ref­er­en­dum would ex­pand the Turk­ish pres­i­dent’s power by ef­fec­tively dis­solv­ing the of­fice of prime min­is­ter and al­low­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch that Mr. Er­do­gan al­ready over­sees to ab­sorb many of the au­thor­i­ties of the na­tion’s leg­is­la­ture.

The Turk­ish pres­i­dent will be al­lowed to ap­point gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and one-third of the na­tion’s judges and have the power to de­clare na­tional emer­gen­cies and dis­solve par­lia­ment. Per­haps most no­tably, he will be legally au­tho­rized to stand anew for elec­tions him­self for two five-year terms — po­ten­tially ex­tend­ing his grip on the pres­i­dency un­til 2029.

While state-run me­dia re­ported Sun­day night that roughly 51.3 per­cent of votes cast fa­vored the con­sti­tu­tional changes, with 48.7 per­cent vot­ing against, there was some un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the tally.

In an un­prece­dented and last-minute de­ci­sion head­ing into the vote, the Supreme Elec­tion Com­mis­sion had said it would ac­cept as valid bal­lots that didn’t have of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment stamps on them.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers, who’d stood against ex­pand­ing Mr. Er­do­gan’s pow­ers, pounced on the devel­op­ment, say­ing it left the ref­er­en­dum with se­ri­ous le­git­i­macy prob­lems.

As votes were counted, the op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party, or CHP, said it would chal­lenge 37 per­cent of bal­lot boxes. Other op­po­si­tion play­ers echoed the as­ser­tion, with the Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party claim­ing on Twit­ter that its “data in­di­cates a ma­nip­u­la­tion in the range of 3 to 4 per­cent.”

Ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish me­dia, more than 55 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try of about 80 mil­lion were reg­is­tered to vote.

Bor­der­ing Syria, Iran and Iraq, Tur­key oc­cu­pies some of the most strate­gic po­lit­i­cal and ge­o­graphic real estate in the world. It is one of just two Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity NATO mem­bers and is the home of In­cir­lik, one of the most valu­able U.S. air bases in the world.

But the na­tion’s op­po­si­tion has ar­gued for years that Mr. Er­do­gan’s rule has be­come rid­dled with cor­rup­tion, pro­moted di­vi­sive na­tion­al­ism and driven a re­li­gious wedge be­tween the coun­try’s sec­u­lar and re­li­gious vot­ers.

Af­ter turn­ing back a brief at­tempted coup last sum­mer, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent cracked down on sus­pected plot­ters by purg­ing civil so­ci­ety, the courts and the mil­i­tary.

Some 100,000 jour­nal­ists, aca­demics, op­po­si­tion politi­cians and oth­ers were stripped from po­si­tions of in­flu­ence. The gov­ern­ment ac­cused many of hav­ing con­nec­tions to Fethul­lah Gulen, the Mus­lim cleric in ex­ile in Penn­syl­va­nia who Mr. Er­do­gan claims or­ches­trated the coup.

Di­vi­sion was rife across social me­dia Sun­day night, with Er­do­gan sup­port­ers claim­ing the ref­er­en­dum marked the dawn of new era, while the op­po­si­tion cried foul and fraud.

Some said the out­come was the re­sult of a care­ful, decade-long push by Mr. Er­do­gan to amass power, and sug­gested more should have been done over the years to con­front him.

“This is about one man and power,” said Dani Ro­drik, a Turk­ish econ­o­mist and pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Univer­sity. “If you de­clare Turk­ish democ­racy dead,” Mr. Ro­drik tweeted Sun­day, “tell your read­ers why you were cheer­ing it on while it was dy­ing.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In elec­tions held Sun­day, Turk­ish vot­ers chose to re­struc­ture their gov­ern­ment from a sys­tem of par­lia­men­tary rule to one that grants sweep­ing pow­ers to Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan de­clared vic­tory in Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum vote that will grant sweep­ing pow­ers to the pres­i­dency. His ex­panded power in­clude: dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment, ap­point­ing one-thrid of judges and declar­ing emer­gen­cies.

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