(JNS.org) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in a controversial referendum held Sunday designed to vastly expand his powers.
While official election results have not come in, the state-run Anadolu news agency declared Erdogan had won with 51.4 percent out of a total of 47.5 million votes cast.
"God willing, these results will be the beginning of a new era in our country," Erdogan said at a news conference Sunday night, CNN reported.
However, international monitors have criticized the fairness of the vote, saying it was conducted on an “unlevel playing field,” while the deputy leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called for the results to be annulled.
The referendum put forward by Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) sought to replace the current parliamentary system with a more powerful presidential system.
Erdogan and supporters of his “Yes” campaign said the constitutional changes are necessary to effectively deal with the country’s modern security and political challenges. Opponents say it moves Turkey towards increased authoritarianism.
If the vote outcome holds up, a new presidential system would be implemented by November 2019, eliminating the post of prime minister and concentrating power under Erdogan, granting him direct authority to appoint ministers.
In 2016, Israel and Turkey took steps to restore full diplomatic ties by exchanging ambassadors following years of frayed relations over the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. Yet Erdogan has a history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Last November, when asked about his remark in 2014 that the IDF’s actions during Operation Protective Edge represented “barbarism that surpasses Hitler,” Erdogan told an Israeli television journalist, “I don’t approve of what Hitler did, and neither do I approve of what Israel has done.”