'Voting irregularities' as Erdogan declares victory in historic Turkish referendum

Turkey is set to grant sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following after he scored a narrow win in a referendum.

However, independent election observers from the Council of Europe called the referendum an "uneven contest", said it did not live up to international standards.

The Council of Europe criticised a decision by Turkey's electoral board to accept ballots that did not have official stamps, saying it undermined safeguards against fraud.

Turkey's main opposition party also urged the country's electoral board to cancel the results, citing what it called substantial voting irregularities.

Instead the electoral board confirmed 51.4% of voters backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic.

It added the final results would be declared in 11 or 12 days time.

The "yes" vote sets the stage for the prime ministerial office to be abolished and replaced with a presidential system.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim added that the people's message was clear, and that the vote had ended all arguments.

The proposed changes would cement President Erdogan's hold on power for a decade.

The "yes" vote would also grant the president powers to appoint ministers, senior government officials and half the members of Turkey's highest judicial body, as well as issue decrees and declare states of emergency.

It sets a limit of two five-year terms for presidents, and also allows the president to remain at the helm of a political party.

The changes would come into effect with the next general elections, scheduled for 2019.

Opponents had argued the constitutional changes give too much power to a man they say has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies.

Opponents have called for the result to be overturned on the basis that the anti-fraud security was undermined by giving some people unstamped ballots.

However, Turkey's electoral board rejected claims of voting fraud shortly after victory was declared, while the country's foreign minister described the result as the birth of a "truly new Turkey".

President Erdogan and his supporters say the "Turkish style" presidential system will bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by last year's coup attempt and a series of devastating attacks by the so-called Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

But opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring that Mr Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.

Protesters Istanbul and other cities which voted "no" took to the streets after the President extended the state of emergency which was first imposed in July following a failed coup, and raised the prospect of reinstating the death penalty, a move which would effectively halt any accession to the EU.

People took to the streets of Istanbul, protesting against the referendum result. Credit: AP

However, President Erdogan slammed critics both at home and abroad and told the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission to "know your place".

"We have put up a fight against the powerful nations of the world," he told supporters greeting him at Ankara airport after arriving from Istanbul.

"The crusader mentality attacked us abroad, inside their lackeys attacked us. We did not succumb; as a nation we stood strong."

He added that "Turkey does not see, hear, or acknowledge reports by the OSCE observer mission", which had said the election was contested on an "unlevel playing field".

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory on Sunday. Credit: AP

The OSCE observer mission said the referendum lacked equal opportunities, saw one-sided media coverage, and limitations on fundamental freedoms all created an unlevel playing field in the constitutional referendum.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party and top "no" campaigner, has said the result of the vote will remain unclear until they appeal to the High Electoral Board over "voter irregularities".

Opponents fear reform will lead to autocratic rule. Credit: AP

In response, Turkey's foreign ministry rejected the "unacceptable" findings of international monitors and said it was "saddened" by what it called "politically-motivated and accusatory" statements.

The foreign ministry added tge OSCE observer mission had "arrived in Turkey with prejudices and ignored the principles of objectivity and neutrality".

Three people died during protests. Credit: AP

Mr Erdogan, 63, first came to power in 2003 as prime minister and served in that role until becoming Turkey's first directly elected president in 2014.

He has long sought to expand the powers of the president.

The result of Sunday's referendum will determine Turkey's long-term political future and will likely have lasting effects on its relations with the European Union and the world.