ISTANBUL — Turkish voters approved a sweeping package of constitutional reforms by a wide margin on Sunday, handing a major victory to the Islamist-rooted government that continued the country’s inexorable shift in power away from the secular Westernized elite that has governed modern Turkey for most of its history.
The changes were intended to bring Turkey’s military-imposed Constitution in line with European standards of law and democracy, but were widely viewed by voters and politicians here as a referendum on the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to unofficial results issued late Sunday night, the package of 26 constitutional amendments passed with 58 percent of the vote, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported.
“The main message out of the ballot boxes is that our nation said yes to advanced democracy, yes to freedoms, yes to the superiority of law — not the law of the superiors — and yes to the sovereignty of national will,” Erdogan said.
Analysts said the vote would bolster the government’s prospects of winning re-election next spring, but was also likely to reinforce sharp ideological divisions in this deeply polarized country.
The governing Justice and Development Party, which proposed the changes, portrayed the constitutional overhaul as an effort to strengthen Turkey’s democracy while helping clear its path toward membership in the European Union. The amendments, the government says, represented a long-overdue attempt to revamp a Constitution ratified after a military coup whose 30th anniversary was on Sunday.
But opponents of the changes describe them as an orchestrated power grab aimed at undermining the secular order established by the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in 1923, and giving religious conservatives power over the military and judiciary, the last independent guardians of the secular state.