Turkey begins voting on increased presidential power

This article is more than 12 months old

ANKARA Turks began voting in a hotly contested referendum yesterday that could place sweeping new powers in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and herald the most radical change to the country's political system in its modern history.

Opinion polls have given a narrow lead for a "Yes" vote, which would replace Turkey's parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Mr Erdogan in office until at least 2029.

The outcome will also shape Turkey's strained relations with the European Union. The Nato member state has curbed the flow of migrants - mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq - into the bloc but Mr Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.

About 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,140 polling stations across the nation. Turkish voters abroad have already cast their ballots.

"A one-man system is being established, so I said 'No'. I said 'No' for a strong parliament," said Mr Hasan Celik, 29, after voting in the south-east's largest city, Diyarbakir.

The referendum has bitterly divided the nation.

Mr Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the current constitution, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

Opponents say it is a step toward greater authoritarianism.