Turkey Referendum: At Istanbul Rally, Erdogan Supporters Underwhelmed by His Slim Win

'I am not happy at all. Almost half the country says no to the referendum'

Supporters of the "Yes" vote, wave flags during celebrations in Istanbul, on Sunday, April 16, 2017.
Supporters of the "Yes" vote, wave flags during celebrations in Istanbul, on Sunday, April 16, 2017. Emrah Gurel/AP

In the pouring rain, thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flocked to a plaza in central Ankara to celebrate victory in Sunday's referendum, trying to express joy even as they conceded the result was far below expectations.

"I am not happy at all. Almost half the country says no to the referendum," says Serdal, who stood outside the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) headquarters in the capital Ankara with his wife and two children.

"I do wonder if this result is enough to carry out the changes," he says. "I even asked myself if I should come to the rally tonight."

Talha, a man in his 30s, says he expected a much larger win for the party but says the slim margin awarded by the election commission could serve as a healthy reminder to the AKP, which has been in power since 2002.

"The party must work harder to win the hearts and minds of the people. It cannot get spoiled. The party must fix itself," he says, just as Prime Minister Binali Yildirim took to the balcony high above the crowd to declare victory.

At the end of his speech, a spectacular display of fireworks was set off, lasting several minutes, lighting up the cloudy night sky, even as many supporters began to flock towards the exit, hiding under plastic ponchos handed out by the AKP.

"To be honest with you, I expected to have 60 or 65 per cent of the country saying yes. But still, this result is legitimate and now we should move ahead with the reforms," says Ahmed.

He was marching with his friends near the party headquarters shouting "Allahu akbar." Some were carrying large Turkish flags while others held up high the imperial banner of the Ottoman Empire. Many had scarves and T-shirts depicting Erdogan's face.

The referendum on vastly expanding presidential powers was highly controversial, with results showing the "yes" camp secured just over 51 per cent of the vote, with a high turnout of over 85 per cent.

"Great countries are ruled by presidents," explains 33-year-old Abdullah, who came to the rally with his extended family. "We need this change to become a great country."

His sister-in-law, Ummu, insists that anything above half was enough to be considered a win.

"50 per cent plus 1 is what you need in a democracy. And we got this," she says.

Meral Bostan considers herself a firm believer in Erdogan, one of his many die-hard fans in Turkey, saying that she voted "yes" in the referendum because the president insisted it was what the country needed.

"Anything the president wants, I will support. We got 50 per cent, it is over," she says. Asked why she thinks the result was not higher, she points to the West.

"Tayyip Erdogan stood up to the whole world. But this is still the result we got. It is a victory."