Turks approved Sunday divisive constitutional changes that reshape judiciary and curb the military`s influence, media projection showed , handing the Islamist-rooted government a major victory.
With 70 percent of the ballot boxes counted some 60 percent of Turkish voters approved the package of constitutional amendments pushed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, NTV news channel reported.
CNN Turk news channel projected the final result at about 57 percent.
Erdogan said after casting his vote in Istanbul that the referendum is “…an important breaking point for Turkish democracy. We are passing through a very important test.”
His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist movement, insists the reforms will bring EU-candidate Turkey closer to the democratic norms of the 27-state bloc.
However, the opposition had urged Turks reject the amendments, saying they masked the AKP’s quest for authoritarian power.
The EU has welcomed the amendments as a “step in the right direction”.
The package’s approval provides a major boost for the AKP ahead of general elections next year, in which it will seek a third straight term in power.
Some 50 million people were eligible to vote in the referendum, which fell on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 coup, one of four military interventions that have unseated elected governments in Turkey since 1960.
Voters were divided on the AKP agenda, reflecting the sharp polarization that has plagued Turkey since 2002 when the AKP came to power amid fears it would undermine the secular system.
“We no longer want military coups in this country… We want a civilian and a more democratic constitution,” said 32-year-old Serkan Misirlioglu, a travel agency employee, as he went to vote under pouring rain in Istanbul.
The current constitution, a legacy of the 1980 coup, remains under universal criticism for its oppressive spirit despite previous amendments.
The opposition argues the AKP — its democratic credentials already under mounting criticism — designed the amendments to propel cronies to senior judicial posts, control the courts and dilute Turkey’s secular system.
The bill, pushed through parliament in May by the AKP, aims to restructure the higher echelons of the judiciary, a secularist bastion at loggerheads with the government.
The most controversial provisions modify the make-up of the Constitutional Court and the Higher Board of Judges and Prosecutors, and the way their members are elected.
The package also curbs the powers of the once-untouchable military, already humbled amid sprawling probes into alleged plans to unseat the AKP that have landed dozens of soldiers in court.
The AKP narrowly escaped being outlawed by the Constitutional Court for undermining Turkey’s secular system in 2008.
Top courts have also often blocked AKP-sponsored legislation, including a bill that would have abolished a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.
Other provisions limit the powers of military courts and abolish an article providing a judicial shield for the 1980 coup leaders.
The package also gives civil servants the right to collective bargaining, but not the right to strike, and emphasizes women’s and children’s rights.
Voters were required to decide on all amendments with a single “yes” or “no”.
Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote for a referendum on changes to the constitution that was crafted in the wake of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010.