Mon, Apr 17, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Turkish voters go to polls for key referendum

ERDOGAN’S VISION:If approved, the ballot would eliminate the post of prime minister and give the president far-reaching powers, but the vote is considered too close to call

AFP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in plaid jacket, and his wife, Emine, wearing a white scarf, yesterday greet supporters as they leave a polling station in Istanbul.

Photo: AP

Turkey was voting yesterday to decide whether to expand Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers in a bitterly contested and close referendum he said would determine the future of the country.

More than 55.3 million Turks are eligible to vote on sweeping changes to the president’s role which, if accepted, would grant Erdogan more power than any Turkish leader since its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his successor, Ismet Inonu.

Polling stations opened in the east of the country at 7am, while voting in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities got under way an hour later. The last polls close at 5pm, with first results expected shortly afterward.

Opinion polls, always treated with caution in Turkey, predicted wildly divergent scenarios with analysts saying the outcome remains too close to call despite the clear advantage in resources and airtime enjoyed by the “Yes” campaign.

Voting in Istanbul along with his family, Erdogan predicted that “our people would walk to the future” by making the right choice.

After a bitterly contested campaign that saw insults flung in both directions, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said: “Whatever choice comes out on top, our nation will make the most beautiful decision.”

The opposition has cried foul that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with “Yes” posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

The poll is also taking place under a state of emergency that has seen 47,000 people arrested in an unprecedented crackdown after an attempted coup last year.

“We are voting for Turkey’s destiny,” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the standard-bearer of the “No” camp. “God willing, the result will be auspicious and we will all have the chance to determine Turkey’s fundamental problems.”

If passed, the new presidential system would dispense with the office of prime minister and centralize the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers. The system would come into force after the elections in November 2019.

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