Turkey’s President Rejects Criticism from International Monitors Over Referendum

Turkey’s president has rejected international monitors’ criticism of the referendum that approved expanded presidential powers Sunday, saying the vote was the “most democratic election” seen in any Western country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters Monday outside his palace in Ankara that international election monitors should “know their place.”

He said Turkey will ignore findings by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling the reports “politically motivated.”

Fairness questioned

The monitors have questioned the fairness of Sunday’s referendum, saying it was contested on an uneven playing field. At a news conference in Ankara, monitors from the OSCE said the “No” campaign faced numerous obstacles, including a lack of freedom of expression, intimidation and access to the media.

They also questioned the controversial decision by Turkey’s Supreme Court to allow the use of ballots that did not have an official stamp on them. The main opposition CHP alleges that as many as one-and-a-half million unstamped ballots could have been used, more than the winning margin in the referendum.

Opposition calls for new vote

Bulent Tezcan, deputy head of the CHP demanded the referendum be reheld, saying that would be the “only decision that will end the debate about the legitimacy” and ease people’s concerns.

Unofficial election results from Turkey’s electoral board said the “yes” vote took more than 51 percent while the “no” vote took just under 49 percent. Official tallies were expected to be released within 12 days of the vote.

The approval means the Turkish parliament will be largely sidelined, the prime minister and Cabinet posts will be abolished, and ministers will be directly appointed by the president and accountable to him. The president also will set the budget.

The constitutional amendments also end the official neutrality of the president, allowing him to lead a political party. The president will have the power to dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency, while enjoying enhanced powers to appoint judges to the high court and constitutional court.

A divided nation

The referendum has divided the nation, with both supporters and opponents arguing that the future of the country is at stake.

Erdogan insists the reforms will create a fast and efficient system of governance that will allow Turkey to face the challenges of fighting terror and the slowing economy. Critics argue the constitutional reforms will usher in an elected dictatorship.

Erdogan spoke by telephone Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, who according to a White House statement congratulated the Turkish leader on the referendum win.  The statement further said the two men talked about the situation in Syria, both the fight against Islamic State and holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for a chemical attack earlier this month.

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