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Turkish PM declares referendum debate 'over' amid protests

Binali Yildirim says will of people reflected at the ballot box as lawyers, opposition parties and European observers cite mass irregularities
An anti-government protester shouts slogans during a protest at the Besiktas district in Istanbul on 17 April (Reuters)

The validity of Turkey’s historic referendum result remained in doubt 48 hours after unofficial results were declared, as the main opposition party submitted its official appeal to the election overseer, and a European Council observer suggested irregularities with more than two million votes.

The European Commission on Tuesday called on Turkey to investigate the alleged irregularities, a request dismissed by the Turkish EU minister, Omer Celik, as a "speculative statement" that could not be accepted. 

Turkey’s prime minister was keen to move on after his party secured the thinnest of victory margins with 51.4 percent voting in favour of the amendments package, saying on Tuesday that efforts to cast doubt on the result were insincere.

"The people's will has been reflected at the ballot box, and the debate is over," Binali Yildirim told his parliamentary group. "Everyone should respect the outcome, especially the main opposition."

He also said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, would be invited to rejoin the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as soon as the official result was announced.

The people's will has been reflected, the debate is over

- Binali Yildirim, Turkish PM

Monday night saw protests break out in various cities across Turkey, with a handful of arrests reported in Izmir and Antalya. Scattered protests continued on Tuesday.

At the core of the debate is a move by the Supreme Election Board (YSK), the overseer of elections, to allow unstamped ballot envelopes to be counted.

Estimates regarding the number of such unstamped envelopes vary from between one million to 2.5 million

The result shifting to an executive presidency and granting the president sweeping powers was decided by about 1.3 million votes.    

Binali Yildirim said the referendum reflected the will of the people (Reuters)

A limited monitoring team from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in a report on Monday also cited irregularities.

On Tuesday Alev Korun, an Austrian MP and member of the Council of Europe observer mission, told ORF radio that up to 2.5m votes could have been manipulated.

"This is about the fact that actually the law only allows official voting envelopes. The highest election authority decided however, as it were against the law, that envelopes without official stamp should be admitted," Korun added.

The country's bar association on Tuesday added that the decision to accept unstamped ballots was "illegal".

"With this illegal decision, ballot box councils (officials at polling stations) were misled into believing that the use of unstamped ballots was appropriate," the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) said in a statement released late on Monday.

The electoral board announcement... is clearly against the law

- Union of Turkish Bar Associations

"The YSK (electoral board) announcement, which is clearly against the law, has led to irregularities, and the prevention of records that could uncover irregularities from being kept," it said, adding that it expected the YSK to now realise its constitutional responsibilities in evaluating complaints.

Erdogan slammed the European Council observers in a speech on Monday.

He also dismissed protesters as being the same people who protested during the Gezi Park clashes in 2013, saying the banging of pots and pans to protest was employed back then as well.

The Gezi Park protests of 2013 were the largest anti-government protests in Turkey and the government responded with a police crackdown.

Opposition leaders have called on people to remain calm and to channel their protest via the YSK instead of taking to the streets.

The government on Tuesday voted to extend for three months a state of emergency introduced after last year's coup attempt. Emergency powers are now in place until 20 July.

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