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Turkey: Main opposition party files for referendum annulment

Sunday's vote gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "yes" camp a narrow win for constitutional changes that will abolish the office of the prime minister.

Published: 18th April 2017 07:45 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2017 07:45 PM   |  A+A-

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan | AP

By Associated Press

ANKARA: Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday called on the opposition to respect the result of a referendum that will give sweeping new powers to the office of the president, but the main opposition party formally requested the vote be annulled.

Sunday's vote gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "yes" camp a narrow win for constitutional changes that will abolish the office of the prime minister and convert Turkey's system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential one.

Bulent Tezcan, deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said the party filed a formal request seeking the referendum be annulled due to voting irregularities. He said the party would use all legal paths to challenge the vote.

"We demand the cancellation of this referendum," Tezcan said.

The opposition has listed a series of irregularities but has been particularly outraged by an electoral board decision announced late Sunday to accept ballots that didn't bear the official stamps used to verify they are genuine, as required by Turkish law. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who also listed numerous problems, said the move undermined important election safeguards.

That drew a harsh rebuke from Erdogan and criticism from Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

"Efforts to cast a shadow on the result of the vote by spreading rumours of fraud are futile and in vain," Yildirim said. "The will of the people was freely reflected into the ballot boxes and this business is over. Everyone and all sections — and the main opposition party in particular— must show respect. It is wrong to speak after the people have spoken."

Opposition CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused the electoral board of bias and of favouring the governing party.

"It is clear that the High Electoral Board is not receiving its power from the people, the law or the constitution but rather from a specific center, a specific political authority," he told his party's lawmakers during a speech in Ankara Tuesday. He accused the board of "changing the rules midgame."

In Ankara, hundreds of people were queuing outside the election board's offices to submit petitions requesting the board reverse its decision to accept the ballots without official stamps.

In their petitions, the residents of Ankara said the decision and other reported irregularities were in open violation of the law. Similar queues were also reported in front of an election board office in Istanbul.

Sunday's referendum allows Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey first as prime minister and now as president since 2003, to fulfill his long-held ambition for the presidency with executive powers.

The referendum approves 18 constitutional amendments that allow the president to appoint ministers, senior government officials and to hold sway over who sits in Turkey's highest judicial body, as well as to issue decrees and declare states of emergency.

The new system takes effect at the next election, currently slated for November 2019. Other changes are to be implemented sooner, including scrapping a requirement that the president not be a member of any political party. This would allow Erdogan to rejoin the governing AK Party he co-founded, or to lead it.

On Tuesday, Yildirim said Erdogan would be invited to join the party as soon as the official results are declared.

"We will invite our founding chairman to our party and we will feel a huge elation to see him among us," he said.

Meanwhile, OSCE monitors were seen entering the Supreme Electoral Board headquarters. Tana de Zulueta, head of the observer mission, told reporters that the group had paid a courtesy call and held a "cordial" meeting with electoral board members.

Asked to comment about Erdogan's rebuke, de Zulueta said: "I don't have an opinion, we are invited by the Turkish authorities to observe. We share our report and we completed our mandate." 

In Istanbul, hundreds of "no" supporters demonstrated in the streets on Monday night, chanting "thief, murderer, Erdogan" and banging pots and pans.

U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, ignored the concerns about voting irregularities and congratulated Erdogan on his referendum victory. The two leaders also discussed Turkey's support of the U.S. response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack and efforts to counter the Islamic State group, according to the White House summary of their phone call Monday.



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