ISTANBUL - Turkey's Supreme Election Board on Wednesday rejected all complaints and calls for a re-vote that on Sunday gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers to turn the country into an executive presidency from the current parliamentary system.
The narrow 51-49 percent referendum victory has led to protests in Istanbul and other cities over allegations of voting fraud. The unrest has focused on the board's earlier decision to allow ballots without an official stamp. Under Turkey’s election law, all ballots and the envelope they are placed are required to have an official stamp, a measure to prevent vote-stuffing.
“Erdogan a thief, Erdogan a murderer” hundreds chanted in the Kadikoy, the center of the Asian side of Istanbul and a stronghold of the president's opponents. “The vote was unfair. We don't want one-man rule. We just want democracy for everyone,” a woman protestor said.
Some protestors carried placards with the viral hashtag slogans from referendum night - "The 'No' is not finished" and " 'No' has won”.
Similar protests were held across Istanbul. The demonstrations were smaller than Monday when thousands took to the streets. Demonstrations were also held in other cities, including the capital, Ankara.
Protests have been broadly tolerated by security forces, which have sweeping powers to stop them, under emergency rules introduced after last July’s failed coup. Usually those powers are used to quell anti-government dissent.
The Kadikoy protest was devoid of the usual intimidating presence of heavily-armed riot police and armored cars. Instead, plain-clothes police filmed those participating and checked foreign media credentials as well as occasionally politely asking demonstrators not to use derogative chants against the president.
Dawn raids were made across Istanbul Wednesday, detaining dozens of people suspected of organizing and participating in the protests.
Growing numbers of unverified videos and photos have appeared on social media purporting to show vote-stuffing. Many are from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. Much of the region has strict security as it battles Kurdish insurgents of the PKK.
Several voting districts that are traditional strongholds of the pro-Kurdish HDP that was campaigning against the referendum recorded massive 'yes' votes. Only one-half percent voted 'no' on the referendum in one district where a majority voted for the HDP in the 2015 election.
The HDP along with the main opposition CHP, Republican People’s Party, have refused to recognize the result, and had called for the narrow referendum victory to be annulled. The CHP had submitted an annulment petition Tuesday to the Supreme Election Board.
Earlier Wednesday, before the board announced its rejection of the complaints, the CHP threatened to boycott parliament. "We do not recognize the referendum result,”said CHP spokeswoman Selin Sayek Boke. "There should be no doubt that we will exercise all our democratic rights against it."
In a move widely seen as intended to thwart potential further legal complications over the referendum, Erdogan’s first meeting on the day after Sunday’s vote was with the head of the Constitutional Court.
The president and his ruling AK Party, under emergency rule in the aftermath of the coup, had purged and arrested thousands of the judiciary members, including those of the Supreme Election Board and the Constitutional Court.
But Sunday's narrow margin of victory and the ongoing controversy seemed to galvanize the opposition, which has been largely influenced by the tens of thousands of arrests and purges across academia, media and within the Turkish State, under emergency rule.
“We are standing up for our 'no' votes,” declared a journalist student at Wednesday’s Kadikoy protest. “All we want is fair and just referendum results. And we will keep demanding this until we win!”
Political columnist Semih Idiz of Al Monitor notes, “It's now a question of how the main opposition will mobilize in the lead-up to the next elections, whether it's early elections, or in 2019.”