Turkish referendum was 'unlevel playing field': monitors

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe election monitor said Turkey's referendum was not impartial and instead favored President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid "limitations on fundamental freedoms".

Worldwide observers from the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the referendum campaign was conducted on an "unlevel playing field" and the vote count itself was marred by the late procedural changes that removed key safeguards.

The referendum campaign was conducted on an "unlevel playing field" and the vote count itself was marred by the late procedural changes that removed key safeguards, worldwide observers said.

"God willing, these results will be the beginning of a new era in our country", Erdogan said at a news conference on Sunday. The European Convention on Human Rights, which new EU member states are required to sign up to, calls for a universal abolition of the death penalty except in rare situations during times of war.

An unprecedented electoral board decision to accept ballots that didn't bear the official stamp has led to outrage among the opposition.

What has come as the biggest setback to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his bid to grant sweeping powers to himself is the statement of global observers that the April 16 referendum was contested on an unequal playing field.

The deputy chairman of the People's Republican Party (CHP) said there had been complaints in many regions that people had been blocked from voting in private - and that some ballots had been counted in secret.

The victory of the yes campaign will consolidate Erdoğan's power, allowing him to run for two more election terms and potentially stay in power until 2029.

The race was marred by divisive rhetoric, with the government equating no voters with terrorist groups and the opposition accusing the ruling party of seeking to install a dictatorship. Guven said the decision was made so that voters who were by mistake given unstamped ballot papers would not be "victimized".

After the vote, Mr Erdogan repeated his intention to review Turkey's suspension of the death penalty, a step which would nearly certainly spell the end of Ankara's European Union accession process.

A European Commission statement urged the Turkish government to "seek the broadest possible national consensus" in the implementation of the constitutional changes, given the close result. However, he added, "Erdogan has ruled with a narrow victory before". "This is why the only decision that will end debate about the legitimacy (of the vote) and ease the people's legal concerns is the annulment of this election by the [electoral board]", he said.

Tezcan promised that his party would take the case to the constitutional court if the electoral council did not react.

The result laid bare the deep divide between the urban middle classes who see their future as part of a European mainstream, and the pious rural poor who favour Erdogan's strong hand.

Opposition parties have argued that the changes, which come into effect after the 2019 presidential election, give too much power to the office. "So I think it's been very clear that elections are not on the agenda".

  • Annette Adams