Monitors knock Turkey referendum; Erdogan denounces ‘crusader mentality’
ANKARA/ISTANBUL – A defiant Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the West’s “crusader mentality” today after European monitors criticised a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers, which he won with a narrow victory laying bare the nation’s divisions.
Supporters thronged the streets honking horns and waving flags, while opponents banged pots and pans in protest in their homes into the early morning. The main opposition party rejected the result and called for the vote to be annulled.
Election authorities said preliminary results showed 51.4 per cent of voters had backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic.
Erdogan says concentrating power in the hands of the president is vital to prevent instability. But the narrowness of his victory could have the opposite effect: adding to volatility in a country that has lately survived an attempted coup, attacks by Islamists, a Kurdish insurgency, civil unrest and war across its Syrian border.
The result laid bare the deep divide between the urban middle classes who see their future as part of a European mainstream, and the pious rural poor who favour Erdogan’s strong hand. Erdogan made clear his intention to steer the country away from Europe, announcing plans to seek to restore the death penalty, which would effectively end Turkey’s decades-long quest to join the EU.
“The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us,” he told flag-waving supporters on arrival in the capital Ankara where he was due to chair a cabinet meeting, in response to the monitors’ assessment.
In the bluntest criticism of a Turkish election by European monitors in memory, a mission of observers from the 47-member Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, said the referendum was an uneven contest. Support for a “Yes” vote dominated campaign coverage, and the arrests of journalists and closure of media outlets prevented other views from being heard, the monitors said.
“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” said Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation.
While the monitors had no information of actual fraud, a last-minute decision by electoral authorities to allow unstamped ballots to be counted undermined an important safeguard and contradicted electoral law, they said. (Reuters)