RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
We start the show with a look at today's referendum in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is declaring victory after unofficial returns appear to show voters opting to scrap their parliamentary system of government in favor of a strong executive. But the main opposition parties say they plan to appeal the results and call for recounts in the close vote. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul and joins us now. Hi, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ray.
SUAREZ: As the polls opened, was a close result expected?
KENYON: Actually, the polls did predict it to be fairly close. And we haven't been able to say that about too many recent elections, that the pollsters got it pretty right. And now we'll have to see what the final results say, of course, as you mentioned. But early on, we were all watching state media, and they came out with a sizable 60-40 lead for the yes vote right off the bat very soon after the polls closed. But then that steadily shrank all night, and it got closer and closer and closer.
And what we have now are unofficial results, not confirmed by the Board of Elections, that look like about a 51-49 victory for yes, if these numbers are right. That was good enough for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He got out there in Istanbul and told some very happy supporters that they'd won a massive victory. It's a fitting response, he said, to those who tried to slow Turkey down. Erdogan says slowing down, that's not going to be in our dictionary anymore, all, of course, assuming that these results stand up.
SUAREZ: What can you tell us about the complaints about how the vote was carried out and the attempts to get it recounted?
KENYON: Right. Well, opposition parties are focusing on a particular part of the law that says these ballots - one side says yes, one side says no. They're supposed to be put in an envelope and handed in once you stamp the proper answer that you want to choose. And the opposition is saying a bunch of these were not properly stamped and sealed. They didn't follow the right procedure as laid out by the Board of Elections. But the board, in the middle of the vote, decided, well, it's OK. We're going to accept these ballots anyway.
So that's one problem. And then there's other grounds for some other recount claims. It's not clear where all this is going, if it could flip the results or not. It could take a bit of time because after they talked to the board, they have 48 hours to appeal there. But then they might have to go to the courts to get satisfaction. So we really don't know how long this'll take.
SUAREZ: You were out speaking to voters today. What did they base their decisions on?
KENYON: Well, not a lot of people really understand all 18 of these proposed constitutional amendments. A lot of people admitted, well, look, it's about Erdogan, if you like him or you don't. And that's how they went into the ballot box. The yes voters, the most consistent theme they gave me was stability. We're tired of coalition governments. We want one clear leader with plenty of power. That's just going to be better than it's been so far.
And it has been a pretty rough time for Turkey with a failed coup, terrorist attacks, all kinds of problems. On the other hand, the no voters said you can't give that much power to one person, if it's Erdogan or anyone else. If it's the wrong person, it could be a disaster.
SUAREZ: If these results are ratified, does President Erdogan immediately become a more powerful chief executive?
KENYON: No, he doesn't. It could not - it could wait until 2019. There are a couple of things that happen sooner. The president can rejoin his party, become a partisan leader again, and he can get more say over the selection of judges. Critics say that could weaken some checks on his power. But it'll be probably until 2019 when the next general elections are set that the strong executive provisions would kick in.
SUAREZ: And how long to re-examine the vote as the machinery clanks ahead?
KENYON: Well, exactly, we don't know how long it's going to be. There's a couple of different routes to the appeal. So at the moment, we're just waiting. But Mr. Erdogan says it's too late. I'm declaring victory. We won.
SUAREZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks, Peter.
KENYON: You're welcome, Ray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.