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Turkish president defiant after voting irregularities found during referendum

By AP Reporters

Turkey's main opposition party has 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.

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 criticised 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 or 12 days. The State-run Anadolu Agency said the "yes" side stood at 51.4% of the vote, while the "no" vote saw 48.6% 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 political future and its international relations. Opponents argued the constitutional changes give too much power to a man they say has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies.

Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of Middle East History at St Lawrence University in Canton, New York, said: "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."

Erdogan slammed his critics at home and abroad.

"We have put up a fight against the powerful nations of the world," he told supporters. "The crusader mentality attacked us abroad, inside their lackeys attacked us. We did not succumb; as a nation we stood strong."

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 with 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.

The board announced on Sunday, however, that it would accept unstamped envelopes 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.

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