Erdogan Lashes Out At European Monitors Of Turkey's Referendum
RFE/RL April 17, 2017
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out angrily at criticism from European election monitors over a referendum that will bring sweeping new powers to the presidency.
Erdogan's remarks came after observers from the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said on April 17 that the legal framework for the referendum "remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum."
The monitors also said the referendum campaign was conducted on an "unlevel playing field" and that the counting of ballots in the April 16 referendum had been marred by "late procedural changes."
Speaking later on April 17, Erdogan rejected those findings and told the OSCE monitors to "know your place."
The Turkish president also said that Turkey "does not see, hear, or acknowledge reports by the OSCE observer mission."
In response to warnings from some European officials that Turkey's candidacy for European Union membership could be rejected over of its failure to adhere to the EU's democratic and human rights standards, Erdogan said it is "not so important" if the EU suspends Turkey's accession talks "as long as they inform us."
Erdogan also said Turkey would, "if necessary," conduct its own referendum on whether Ankara should suspend the EU accession talks.
Turkey's Central Election Committee (CEC) late on April 16 declared that 51.3 percent of voters supported the adoption of 18 constitutional amendments that will create a presidential system of government and could allow Erdogan to remain in power until 2029.
Tana de Zulueta, the mission chief from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said on April 17 that Turkey's referendum did not meet international standards.
She said the referendum contravened Turkey's commitments to the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe "regarding freedom and equality in the campaign."
Noting that the closely contested vote was conducted under a state of emergency, she said people forced to flee their homes because of security operations in mostly Kurdish-populated southeastern Turkey had faced difficulties trying to vote.
"We also noted a considerable imbalance in the campaign, due -- among other things -- to the active involvement of the president, several leading national officials, and many local public officials in the 'yes' campaign," she said. "Our team observed the misuse of administrative resources, and the obstruction of efforts by parties and civil society organizations supporting the 'no' campaign."
The OSCE/ODIHR mission chief also said the campaign rhetoric had been "tarnished by some senior officials equating 'no' supporters with terrorist sympathizers."
"In numerous cases, 'no' sympathizers faced police interventions and violent scuffles at their events," she said.
Cezar Florin Preda, the head of a PACE monitoring delegation, told reporters in Ankara on April 17 that "the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities."
"Voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform and civil society organizations were not able to participate," Preda said.
"Under the state of emergency put in place after the July 2016 failed coup attempt, fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed," Preda said. "The dismissal [from government jobs] or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment. One side's dominance in the [media] coverage and restriction of the media reduced voters' access to a plurality of views."
Preda also said "late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard and were contested by the opposition," referring to a move by election officials to allow ballots that did not have an official stamp to be counted.
Turkey's opposition says a decision on April 16 by the Supreme Electoral Council to count unstamped ballot papers had created possibilities for widespread fraud in the ballot count.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) demanded a recount of up to 60 percent of the ballots and said it would challenge 37 percent of the ballots that had been counted.
CHP Deputy Chairman Bulent Tezcan has called for the results to be annulled, saying his party would take its challenge to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) claimed there was a vote "manipulation of 3 to 4 percentage points" in favor of expanding presidential powers.
But the head of Turkey's electoral commission, Sadi Guven, rejected the claims of foul play and the criticism from international monitors.
Guven said the unstamped ballot papers that were counted had been produced by his Supreme Electoral Council and were valid.
Western critics have said the amendments pose a huge threat to human rights and the rule of law because they concentrate too much power in the hands of the president.
Pelin Ayan Musil, an expert on Turkey at the Anglo-American University in Prague, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that Erdogan's victory could spark radical change inside Turkey and damage Ankara's relations with the European Union.
"It will give a lot of power to the president. He will be able to do many things: dissolve the parliament, appoint judges ... So, institutionally, yes, [it is a radical change]. In terms of societal change, though, Turkey was already very divided. And this result [shows] the division in a [clearer] way.
"The constitutional changes look like a one-man dictatorship," continued Musil. "If we look at [the constitutional changes], the way it is designed, it really kills the checks and balances. The checks and balances were already damaged to a high degree. Now it makes it much worse. ... So I do not think there is a positive future for Turkey-EU relations."
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said on April 17 that the Turkish referendum results revealed a nation that is sharply divided.
Saying that France "takes note" of accusations of substantial voting irregularities, Hollande urged Turkish authorities to respect opposition voices and European values.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on April 17 urged Erdogan to "seek a respectful dialogue with all of the country's political and societal groups."
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement after the results were announced that the "practical implementation" of Turkey's constitutional amendments "will be assessed in light of Turkey's obligations as a European Union candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe."
Their statement also said they would closely examine the assessment of the OSCE and PACE observation missions in regard to "alleged irregularities."
With reporting by RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent Pamir Sahill, AP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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