Trump Calls to Congratulate Erdogan
President Donald Trump became the first Western leader to call Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory in Sunday's referendum, a vote that grants the executive a major expansion of power even as it came under criticism from international monitors.
Sources at the Turkish presidential palace told Reuters that Trump called Erdogan on Monday. A written statement was expected to follow.Turkish election authorities said the preliminary results of Sunday's referendum showed the "yes" vote approving 18 changes to the constitution won just over 51 percent.
Campaigners on the "no" side immediately called the result into question, moving to challenge up to 60 percent of the votes after a last-minute decision to count ballots that had not been stamped by election officials.
The result means Turkey is set to implement the most sweeping reforms of its government since the establishment of the republic in 1923. Among the changes sought by the referendum are the elimination of the prime minister position, putting the power to appoint the cabinet and some senior judges in the president's hands, reducing the power of the parliament to make laws and resetting the term limits, which could allow Erdogan to stay in office until 2029.
International election monitors criticized the result in a blistering statement. Among the factors contributing to an "unlevel playing field," the Council of Europe's 47-member election board said, was a lack of impartial information about the measures on the ballot.
Under the ongoing state of emergency, following a failed coup in July, "fundamental freedoms essential to genuinely democratic process were curtailed," the watchdog said in its preliminary report. "The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment."
"The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters," said Tana de Zulueta, head of the watchdog group under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. "Our monitoring showed the 'Yes' campaign dominated the media coverage and this, along with restrictions on the media, the arrests of journalists and the closure of media outlets, reduced voters' access to a plurality of views."
"In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards," said Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. "The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process."Erdogan dismissed the statements by the monitors as invalid.
"The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us," he said to a crowd while arriving at Ankara airport.
Later at the presidential palace, he added: "We neither see, hear, nor acknowledge the political reports you'll prepare. We'll continue on our path. Talk to the hand. This country has carried out the most democratic elections, not seen anywhere in the West."
The U.S. Department of State said it had taken note of the concerns and, until the final report, urged Turkey to protect the rights of all its citizens, regardless of how they voted.