Turkey’s main opposition party has warned it could walk out of parliament in protest at alleged fraud in Sunday’s referendum, significantly raising the stakes in its standoff with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the disputed results.
The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) issued its warning as dozens of opposition activists were arrested for protesting the referendum result in what appeared to be a fresh political crackdown.
Mr Erdogan meanwhile said he intended to press ahead with translating the narrow Yes vote into constitutional reforms that will give him sweeping new powers and brushed off criticisms that the changes would take Turkey towards dictatorship.
Three days after Mr Erdogan’s Yes camp claimed a 51 per cent victory in the historic referendum, the furore over alleged voter fraud showed no signs of dying down.
Protests have taken place in liberal urban neighbourhoods every night and the country's opposition parties said they were refusing to accept the result
The CHP said the vote should be run again because its legitimacy was in question and said it could consider boycotting the parliament in protest if its concerns were not addressed.
If it followed through on its threat it would be a major escalation in the standoff and undermine Mr Erdogan’s hopes of moving swiftly past the referendum and onto the business of reshaping the constitution.
“We don't recognise the referendum result,” CHP spokeswoman Selin Sayek Boke said. “There should be no doubt that we will exercise all our democratic rights against it.”
“Those steps include both withdrawing from Parliament and continuing to work,” she said.
The CHP has formally submitted an application to Turkey’s election board for the results to be annulled and is waiting to hear back but so far the board has given no sign it is prepared to back away from its certification that Mr Erdogan’s Yes camp won.
The high-level political machinations came as 38 opposition activists were reportedly arrested in dawn raids by police. Most of them were from Left-wing parties or organisations that had protested against the results.
Among the arrested was Mesut Gecgel, a regional official with a small socialist party in Turkey.
“I am being detained on the grounds that I protest the ‘Yes’ votes which are ‘legitimate’. The horse thieves are not idle. Our country is ours. We won!” he posted on Twitter.
"meşru" olan "evet" oylarını protesto ettiğim gerekçesiyle gözaltına alınıyorum. at hırsızları boş durmuyor.— Mesut Geçgel (@mesutgecgel) April 19, 2017
memleket bizim. biz kazandık!
Turkish police enjoy broad powers to detain people under a state of emergency law that has been in place since a failed coup attempt against Mr Erdogan last summer. Around 50,000 people have been jailed since the July coup and more than 100,000 have been purged from state jobs.
It was not immediately clear if the arrested activists would be charged with a crime or detained for a period and then released.
Mr Erdogan said he was not concerned by his narrow 51-49 victory nor the outcry over voting irregularities.
“A win is a win,” he told CNN. “I come from a football background. It doesn’t matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.”
The president said that the new system, which will come into place after the next presidential election in 2019, was not a step towards authoritarianism.
"I am a mortal really, I could die at any time,” he said, arguing that the new executive presidency model was not designed for him and the post would be occupied by anyone who could win it at the ballot box.
Mr Erdogan, 63, has led Turkey as prime minister and president since 2003 and could theoretically remain in power until 2029 under the new laws.
Donald Trump has so far been the only Western leader to congratulate Mr Erdogan on the results, while the European commission has called for an investigation into allegations of voting irregularities.
Both the Turkish opposition and international election observers have raised the alarm over a last minute decision by Turkey’s High Electoral Board - made after voting had already started - to count ballots even if they had not been officially stamped.
The decision “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law,” said a team from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Opposition parties said that 1.5 million unstamped ballots had been illegally counted - enough to swing an election that had been decided by about 1.38 million votes, according to the state news agency.