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Erdogan brushes off referendum criticism

ANKARA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily rejected criticism by international monitors of a referendum granting him extra powers that was disputed by the opposition and exposed bitter divisions in the country.

Returning in triumph to his presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan addressed thousands of supporters gathered outside, telling monitors who criticised the poll: “Know your place.”

Showing no sign of pulling his punches, Erdogan said Turkey could hold further referendums on its EU bid and re-introducing the death penalty.

The “Yes” camp won 51.41 per cent in Sunday’s referendum, according to complete results released by election authorities.

But the opposition immediately cried foul, claiming a clean vote would have made a difference of several percentage points and handed them victory.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said they would challenge the results from most ballot boxes due to alleged violations.

“There is only one decision to ease the situation in the context of the law — the Supreme Election Board (YSK) should annul the vote,” the Dogan news agency quoted CHP deputy leader Bulent Tezcan as saying.

The referendum has no “democratic legitimacy”, HDP spokesman and lawmaker Osman Baydemir told reporters in Ankara.

CHP began a battle on Tuesday to annul the referendum, while the bar association and an international monitor said an illegal move by electoral authorities may have swung the vote.

Few in Turkey expect legal challenges to the referendum to lead to a recount, let alone a re-run. But if unresolved, they will leave deep questions over the legitimacy of a vote which split the electorate down the middle, and whose polarising campaign drew criticism and concern from European allies.

Turkey’s bar association said a last-minute decision by the YSK electoral board to allow unstamped ballots in the referendum was clearly against the law, prevented proper records being kept, and may have impacted the results.

“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.

“Our regret is not over the outcome of the referendum, but because of the desire to overlook clear and harsh violations of the law that have the potential to impact the results,” it said.

The main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), which has said it will take its challenge to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, said it would present a formal appeal to annul the vote to the YSK later on Tuesday.

YSK Chairman Sadi Guven said on Monday the last-minute decision to allow unstamped ballots was not unprecedented as the government had previously permitted such a move.

It was not immediately clear how many unstamped ballots the electoral board had accepted as valid. The head of the board said it had received many complaints that polling stations didn’t have stamps and made the decision to accept the ballots after an appeal from a ruling AK Party official.

Up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated in Sunday’s Turkish referendum which ended in a tight ‘Yes’ vote for greater presidential powers, Alev Korun, an Austrian member of the Council of Europe observer mission, told ORF radio on Tuesday.

The mission of observers from the 47-member Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, had already said the referendum was an uneven contest.

Agencies