Europe News

Trump congratulates Turkish president on winning sweeping new powers in contested referendum

Erdogan had a desperate agenda: Academic
Erdogan had a desperate agenda: Academic

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday for the latter's marginal victory in a referendum that will allow him to consolidate and extend his domestic powers.

"President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory and to discuss the United States' action in response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on April 4," read the official White House press statement.

Trump had placed the call to Erdogan despite a concomitant announcement from the U.S. State Department that it acknowledged the concerns flagged by European election monitors regarding the democratic legitimacy of the referendum, which saw a thin 51.4 percent vote in favor of the Turkish President's bid to concentrate his powers.

Indeed, while the observer mission from the 47-member Council of Europe reported no evidence of actual fraud, the prominent human rights body criticized a last minute decision by authorities to permit unstamped ballots to be counted as a contradiction of electoral law and described the legal framework as inadequate.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Federica Mogherini said they awaited the full assessment from the international monitors.

"We encourage Turkey to address the Council of Europe's concerns and recommendations, including with regards to the State of Emergency. In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation," the commissioners' added in a joint statement.

Turkey's Erdogan slams referendum critics
Turkey's Erdogan slams referendum critics

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel echoed a similar sentiment.

"The tight referendum result shows how deeply divided Turkish society is, and that means a big responsibility for the Turkish leadership and for President Erdogan personally," said the German leaders. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to publicly comment.

Meanwhile, Turkey's Erdogan energetically criticized the electoral monitors complaining to reporters on Monday that, "the crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us."

"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," he continued defiantly.

Trump's relatively enthusiastic support for Erdogan's victory is likely to be the result of a judgment call that the latter is here to stay and that Turkey will be a key U.S. ally in a difficult region, necessitating solid relations with the regime, according to Tim Ash, economist at BlueBay Asset Management.

"I guess Trump is also mindful that Russia is circling around Turkey, and offering alternative alliances for this lynchpin NATO ally," posited Ash in an email on Tuesday morning.

"The call will be greatly appreciated by Erdogan who took great exception to the (Barack) Obama administration and its failure to do enough to support him in/around last year's coup," he added.

OZAN KOSE | AFP | Getty Images

Despite many international commentators expressing dismay about the implications of this win in a country that has seen a steady tightening of authority since Erdogan assumed power in 2003, the president needed this victory in order to formalize and legitimize his rule, according to Michael Harris, adjunct professor at Syracuse University.

"Up until now the narrative was 'instability is because we do not have a strong president'. So everything that went wrong – and some of that stuff that went wrong was manufactured – could be blamed on the idea that we've had coalitions in the past and we didn't have a strong executive. The buck will absolutely stop with Erdogan," asserted Harris, speaking on CNBC Tuesday.

"All of the turbulence we've had in Turkey for a number of years should be thought about in the context that Erdogan had a desperate agenda," he added.

Regarding the Turkish government's rapid move to extend its "state of emergency" powers for three months immediately in the wake of Sunday's victory, Harris contended that the win has actually put immense pressure on Erdogan to normalize affairs within the country and restore the economy as soon as possible.

"As soon as this thing is bedded down, they must end the state of emergency. If they do not end the state of emergency, this economy is going nowhere," he explained.

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