ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory Sunday in a referendum that would grant him vast new powers as the country’s unrivaled head of state, strengthening his influence over the judiciary and his authority over the parliament and extending his divisive tenure in office.
Unofficial vote tallies published by the state news agency showed that 51 percent of voters approved a set of constitutional changes that would transform Turkey’s system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The preliminary result, if confirmed, would cap a dramatic ascent for the populist Erdogan, a onetime mayor of Istanbul whose governance, mastery of politics and bare-knuckles approach to adversaries have handed him and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, a string of election wins since 2002.
But the narrow margin of victory reflected Turkey’s deepening polarization after a failed coup last summer and the anguished arguments over measures that Erdogan’s critics said firmly entrenched one-man rule. Turkey’s main opposition party quickly contested the result of the vote, claiming that up to 2.5 million ballots were invalid and that some election monitors had been removed from polling stations.
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