ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's electoral authority on Thursday released the official tally of the country's referendum, saying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "yes" camp won narrowly in the vote that will greatly boost the powers of his office.
The referendum, disputed by the opposition, approved a series of constitutional amendments transforming Turkey's parliamentary government system into a presidential one, abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting the president executive powers.
Sadi Guven, the head of the High Electoral Board, told reporters that the "yes" side received 51.41 percent of the votes in the April 16 referendum, while the "no" votes garnered 48. 59 percent. He said turnout was 87.45 percent.
The board "declares on behalf of the Turkish nation that the constitutional amendments have been accepted," Guven said.
The changes constitute the most radical transformation to Turkey's political system since the republic was formed in 1923. The "no" camp fears the changes will lead to a one-man authoritarian rule with too few checks and balances. Erdogan has argued that a strong presidency will lead to greater stability and prosperity.
Most of the changes will come into effect after the next elections currently set for 2019.
However, with the official tally announced, Erdogan is expected in the coming days to re-join the ruling Justice and Development Party — which he founded but was forced to leave because of a previous constitutional requirement for the president to be neutral and non-partisan. Erdogan resigned from the party when he became president in 2014.
Media reports said the party is expected to hold an extraordinary congress on May 21 to re-elect Erdogan as its chairman — a move critics say will allow Erdogan to control the legislative where the AKP holds a majority before the changes come into force.
The main opposition party, the pro-secular Republican People's Party, or CHP, has objected to the outcome of the referendum, citing a series of irregularities. In particular, the CHP has contested a controversial decision by the High Electoral Board to accept mid-voting ballot papers that lacked official stamps. International observers also noted irregularities and criticized the decision.
The CHP's appeals to the High Electoral Board and the country's high administrative court were unsuccessful, prompting the party to announce this week that it would take its appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Earlier on Thursday, the High Electoral Board justified its decision to validate the unstamped ballots cast during the referendum, saying the decision was taken to ensure that voters' ballots were not invalidated due to polling clerks' mistakes and rejecting claims that the decision was "completely illegal."
It said it was protecting the citizens' right to vote, adding that there was no evidence of fraud during the voting.