News Briefs April 20, 2017

Turkey passes government reform

The Turkish government held a referendum on Sunday, April 17, voting to grant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased executive powers. Touted as governmental reform aimed to fix an ineffective and outdated system of governance, the referendum was divisive amongst Turkish citizens, and severely disparaged by international critics.

The reform won by a small margin—51.4 to 48.6 percent—with President Erdogan claiming victory under the suspicious eyes of officials around the world. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” Erdogan announced Sunday night. “Debate about this issue is now over…We are not going to stop.” (The New York Times, “Erdogan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum,” 04.16.17.) (Washington Post, “In divided Turkey, president defends victory in referendum granting new powers,” 04.17.17).

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Erdogan in a scheduled phone call Tuesday. Trump’s congratulatory attitude, however, clashes with those of other officials—including American ones. Mark Toner, spokesperson of the U.S. State Department said Monday, “We look to the government of Turkey to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens. The United States continues to support Turkey’s democratic development, to which commitment to the rule of law and a diverse and free media remain essential” (Washington Post, “Trump calls Erdogan to congratulate him on contested referendum,” 04.17.17).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also took a cautious tone. “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,” she said. (BBC, “Turkey referendum: Trump congratulates Erdogan,” 04.18.17).

The most severe concerns, however, are with the legitimacy of the referendum. “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 that delegation.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has its doubts as well. An OSCE report concluded, “The 16 April constitutional referendum took place on an unlevel playing field and 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.

“The campaign framework was restrictive, and the campaign imbalanced due to the active involvement of the president and several leading national officials as well as many local public officials in the ‘Yes’ campaign” (OSCE, “Lack of equal opportunities, one-sided media coverage and limitations on fundamental freedoms created unlevel playing field in Turkey’s constitutional referendum, international observers say,” 04.17.17).

The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement in response to these criticisms, saying, “The comment that the referendum was below international standards is unacceptable” (CNN, “International monitors deliver scathing verdict on Turkish referendum,” 04.18.17).

President Erdogan rejected the criticism as well. “We will not see it, we will not hear it, we will not accept it,” Erdogan said during a statement at his palace. His specifically addressed European monitoring boards. “First of all, you should know your limits. Know your limits. We would neither see nor hear nor know the politically-oriented reports you prepare. We will just march ahead. This country has just undertaken the most democratic elections never seen in any Western country … We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George’” (CNN) (Bloomberg, “Erdogan Says He Doesn’t Care What Europe Thinks About Turkey’s Vote,” 04.17.17)

Protests in Turkey against the reform continue as internal officials investigate allegations of voter fraud.

-Dylan Smith, Guest Reporter

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