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Turkey's President Is Granted Broad New Powers By Referendum Voters


Here are a few facts about Turkey. It's partly in Asia, partly in Europe. It sells itself as the bridge between the West and Middle East. It's a vital U.S. ally, part of NATO, a base for strikes into Syria. And now, a referendum is the latest development to make Turkey seem less democratic, concentrating more power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul and has been following the voting. Hi, Peter.


INSKEEP: So we should mention 51-49, pretty close vote, but this referendum seems to have passed. So how much more powerful is the president going to be now?

KENYON: Right, these unofficial returns do show a narrow victory. Erdogan doesn't actually become a strong president legally right away, only if he wins the next election in 2019. But basically, the government's taking this as a ratification of his increasingly dominant role in Turkish politics. He gave a victory speech last night. He raised more questions about whether he wants more ties with the EU or less. He talked about bringing back the death penalty. That would kill the EU bid, could signal more of a shift away from the West.

Turkey's very important, a troublesome partner in some areas like the fight against ISIS. There's Turkish air bases being used there. There's the migrant flow to the EU or lack thereof, NATO. The West has a really strong interest in keeping Turkey as an ally. Turkey needs that, too. But right now, things are a little iffy, I'd say.

INSKEEP: OK, so packed a lot in there, even mentioning things like the death penalty, which would relate to whether Turkey could be fully accepted into Europe. Were people surprised at all by the results here, Peter?

KENYON: Some were surprised at how close it was. I mean, this was a pretty tilted campaign, critics said. The yes camp got a lot more airtime on TV. A lot of no voters were afraid to be identified. In fact, close enough the opposition says it's going to challenge alleged irregularities. It might be an uphill fight, but it means (inaudible) challenge. It could be days or longer before we know the final results.

INSKEEP: OK, so...

KENYON: Basically, the result shows that the country's still very, very divided.

INSKEEP: Well, as you talk with voters in this divided country, what do you hear?

KENYON: Well, with the yes voters, the big issue seemed to be stability. Before Erdogan, Turkey had a lot of coalition governments. They had lots of problems, didn't work very well. Now the yes voters say strong president, less infighting, more direct action, now our problems are really going to be solved. And there's a nationalist element. Now the world has to take Turkey more seriously.

On the no side, it was a bit more obvious. They were deeply worried about concentrating so much power in the presidency. And this goes even beyond disagreements with Erdogan's governing style - massive firings, jailing of civil servants and journalists after last summer's coup. They basically said whoever's in charge, it's very dangerous to give them too much power.

But barring some new political challenger rising up, it looks like Erdogan could well be in charge until 2029, more than a quarter century in power. And some opponents are saying, well, what kind of democracy is that?

INSKEEP: Well, were there even some supporters of Erdogan who worried about this, Peter?

KENYON: There are. They were not willing to speak out publicly very much. But there are some quiet concerns about where this is heading. And I think the next couple years will be very interesting.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.