Turkey: Referendum victory could hand power on a plate to President Tayyip Erdogan

The constitutional changes will enter into force only after the presidential and parliamentary elections set for 2019. (AFP)

The constitutional changes will enter into force only after the presidential and parliamentary elections set for 2019. (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed the “Yes” vote in the referendum to amend Turkey’s constitution and grant the country’s presidential office new executive powers.

“We have been attacked by other nations of the world. You have seen how the West attacked us,” Erdogan told cheering supporters in Istanbul on Sunday.

“We have not been divided… We have already been on our way, now we will gear it up [with the new system],” he said. “We have so much work to do in this country.”

The constitutional changes were backed by Erdogan, the AK Party founded by him, and the leadership of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), whose parliamentary support was vital to take the amendments to a public vote.

Speaking before Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim thanked the Turkish people for their decision to back the constitutional amendments.

“We are all brothers and sisters in a single body standing against traitors,” Yildirim said, speaking at the headquarters of his governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Ankara.

“Thank you Turkey, thank you my holy nation… The nation said the last word and said ‘Yes’,” he said.

As of 10pm (7.00pm GMT) on Sunday, the “Yes” campaign led with 51.3% to the “No” side’s 48.7% with 99% of votes counted, according to unofficial results.

‘Evet’ - ‘Yes’ - voters in Istanbul celebrate victory in Turkey’s constitutional referendum (Cagan Orhon/Al Jazeera)

The new constitutional changes transform Turkey’s governance from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency, significantly expanding the powers of the top office.

The result gives the president to be elected in 2019 new powers to appoint vice-presidents, ministers, high-level officials, and senior judges.

It will also allow the president to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees, and impose state of emergencies.

Speaking to Al Jazeera outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Erdal Erdinc Durucu, 37, said Erdogan has started a new age for Turkey, and ended another.

“Until today, our hands were tied.
Our president has been trying to do many good things for us. But different powers tried to prevent him from doing so,” Durucu said.

“The recent coup attempt was the latest example of this. God willing, we beat this attempt like others… Turkey is ready to rule the world now. The Ottoman Empire is coming back.”

How will Turkey change if it votes ‘Yes’ on April 16?

Another supporter, Yasemin Ozgen, a 43-year-old housewife, said: “Good days are coming. With this result, Turkey will break away from Europe as a strong power by itself. An independent Turkey will take its own decisions and will use its resources.”

There is growing negative sentiment against the European Union in Turkey as Ankara’s relations with the bloc, particularly member states Germany and the Netherlands, have been tense since last month. Those two nations barred Turkish ministers from holding referendum campaign rallies within their borders, where millions of Turkish voters live.

Turkey’s presidency has traditionally been a largely neutral and ceremonial role, without many political responsibilities, as specified under the current constitution.

However, Erdogan has effectively transformed the office into a more politically active one after he became Turkey’s first president to be elected by popular vote in 2014, following prior constitutional changes passed in a similar referendum in 2010. - Al Jazeera

Additional reporting by Cagan Orhon

Umut Uras

Umut Uras

Umut Uras is an online producer with Al Jazeera English with experience covering the Cyprus dispute, Turkish politics and EU affairs. Specialised in international relations and EU studies, he usually writes on foreign policy and diplomacy. Read more from Umut Uras

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