Polls open in Turkey's historic referendum on reforms

Opposition figures, however, vowed to challenge numerous ballots in the tight race.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory in the vote, which looks set to grant him sweeping new powers.

The results from Sunday's vote are expected to have a huge effect on Turkey's long-term political future and on its relations with the European Union and the world. Although the result, if officially confirmed, would fall short of the sweeping victory Erdogan had sought, but nevertheless cements his hold on the country's governance.

"Yes, I voted and of course [I voted] No because Erdogan wants to be a dictator and he is not a democrat", said Sinan Beritan Mehmetoglu, whose mother, Sengul, the head of a social democratic Kurdish party in the eastern city of Kars, was detained by the authorities in December.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who voted in Izmir, told reporters: "Whatever the result may be, it will be highly respected by us". "Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man", he said, referring to modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In our democracy's history, a new page has opened with this vote.

But he urged people not to succumb to "lethargy" and go out and vote, saying "the stronger result the better".

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said Turkey was at a crossroads between a democratic parliamentary system and a "one-man regime".

"There is the state on one side and people on the other".

Traditional AK Party supporters were helped over the line by backing from the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, Turkey's smallest parliamentary party. CHP vice chairman Erdal Aksunger said they would challenge 37 percent of the ballot boxes. The changes will come into effect with the next general election, scheduled for 2019.

Erdogan is seeking to change Turkey's parliamentary system into an executive presidency, giving him more power to appoint cabinet ministers, choose judges, sign decrees and dissolve parliament.

Critics of the changes fear the move will make the president's position too powerful, arguing that it amounts to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems such as those in France and the US.

Mr Erdogan described the referendum as an opportunity for "change and transformation" as he voted in Istanbul, where bodyguards with automatic weapons stood guard outside the polling station. "And 90 percent of the Turkish media are right now under Erdogan's control, close to 100 media organizations have been shut down and nearly 200 Turkish journalists are in jail", the journalist said, adding that there is almost no one left to withstand his dictatorship. Voters use an official stamp to select between "yes" and "no" - the question itself is assumed to have been understood by all in advance.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the voting process Sunday in the Turkish capital as the country headed to polling stations. "[Over] the past 70 years, we've had over 45 governments and that's due to the unstable political system", Yavuz said.

"The new constitution will bring stability and trust that is needed for our county to develop and grow", Erdogan told supporters Saturday in Istanbul's Tuzla district. "Yes, yes, yes. Our leader is the gift of God to us. He's governing so well".

Erdogan was voted to power in August 2014, the first time a Turkish President had been directly chosen by popular vote.

The referendum campaign was divisive and heavily one-sided, with the "yes" side dominating the airwaves and billboards across the country.

"This referendum differs from all previous elections in Turkey as it envisages the changes in the form of government", Erdogan told reporters April. 16.

He has initiated a widespread crackdown on opposition, which intensified after last year's botched coup, for which he blamed US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

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