Turkish voters cast their ballots on Sunday in a referendum that could give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers and pave the way for the most powerful change in Turkey’s political system in its modern history.
Opinion polls gave a narrow lead to the yes-vote camp, which would lead to a strong presidency replacing Turkey’s parliamentary democratic system and possibly keep Erdogan in power until at least 2029.
The outcome will also determine Turkey’s tense relations with the EU. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has reduced the influx of immigrants, particularly refugees from war in both Syria and Iraq, into the European Union, but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the referendum.
The number of voters eligible to cast their ballots at 16,740 polling stations across Turkey is around 55 million. Polling stations will open at 7 am (0400 GMT) in the east and close at 5 pm (1400 GMT). Turkish voters abroad have already voted.
The referendum led to a major division of the population. Erdogan and his supporters say the amendments are necessary to reform the current constitution, drafted by generals following a military coup in 1980, to meet Turkey’s security and political challenges and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.
Opponents say it is a step toward increasing tyranny in a country where some 40,000 people have been arrested and 120,000 dismissed or suspended in a campaign following a failed coup in July, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups. Relations between Turkey and Europe deteriorated to a low level during the referendum campaign when European Union countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, banned Turkish ministers from organizing rallies to support the amendments.
Erdogan described the moves as “Nazi acts” and said Turkey could reconsider relations with the EU after many years of seeking to join him.