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Turkey's Erdogan appears to be winning vote that will give him broad new powers

Sunday April 16, 2017
By Roy Gutman

An electoral official shows a "Yes" vote as votes are counted in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday, during the referendum on expanding the powers of the president. (Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was within reach Sunday of winning his bid to replace parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful “presidential system,” according to preliminary results in the Turkish constitutional referendum.

With 98% of the ballots counted, Erdogan supporters were ahead 51.5% to 48.5%, according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency.

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The predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey voted decisively against the changes, as did Aegean coastal districts controlled by the opposition Republican People’s Party, and the “no” vote also appears to have won by a close margin in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities.

But Erdogan’s Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) swept nearly all of the Anatolian heartland, as it had in the last national parliamentary elections, in November 2016.

There was, at best, an outside chance that votes from abroad could still tip the balance against the changes, but as the final votes were being counted, an upset seemed unlikely.

The package of 18 constitutional amendments will eliminate the post of prime minister and give the president the power to name his government, without requiring approval from the parliament. It will also expand his control over the judiciary, which is already largely subservient to Erdogan.

The changes, which would take effect in 2019, also would allow Erdogan to run for two additional five-year terms, and possibly a third.

Erdogan, who took the leading role in the campaign for a “yes” vote claimed a “presidential system” will be more efficient in addressing Turkey’s myriad security challenges. These include a Kurdish insurgency in the southeast, threats from Islamic State extremists based in neighboring Syria and the aftermath of a failed coup last July, which he has blamed on a Muslim preacher living in U.S. exile.

His opponents say the changes will lead to one-man rule and possibly a dictatorship.

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