ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory Sunday in a tightly contested national referendum that would radically change the country’s system of government and provide the president with vast, new powers.

With more than 98% of the ballots counted, Erdogan’s referendum had 51.3% yes votes, while 48.7% opposed the changes, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. Erdogan was calling supporters to claim victory, while Erdal Aksünger, deputy leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, told the Hurriyet Daily News that his party would appeal 37% of the votes cast.

The referendum would eliminate the office of prime minister, allowing Erdogan to tighten his political grip and remain in power until 2029. Erdogan could issue decrees without legislative approval, appoint his own Cabinet and most federal judges and have the authority to declare a state of emergency and dissolve parliament.

The United States and the West view the proposals as a turn away from Turkey’s secular democracy and toward a religious-based, authoritarian regime in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of about 80 million people. Turkey is a NATO member and crucial partner in the international effort to crush the Islamic State.

All politics, however, is local. Supporters here say the changes are necessary to give the president the power and stability politically to confront security challenges. Turkey has seen more than 20 terror attacks in the past two years. They also say the current constitution is outdated: It was written by military leaders following a 1989 coup. And supporters add that the change is necessary to confront economic challenges.

Erdogan “has changed Turkey very much in all these years. The rest of the countries feel jealous of us, because we are the strongest country in the Middle East,” said Halil Oymak, 47, who works at a mosque in Istanbul. “If our president wants a presidential system, it’s because he knows” it will be better…. see more

source: usatoday