Trump Calls to Congratulate Erdoğan after Vote Grants Sweeping Powers
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – US president Donald Trump called to congratulate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hours after the Turkish president claimed a narrow victory in a contested referendum that will grant him sweeping new powers, according to the White House.
International observers monitoring the Turkish referendum concluded in a preliminary report on Monday that the campaign and vote took place in a political environment where the “fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed”.
The US president spoke on Monday with Erdoğan, whose triumph in the constitutional referendum escalated concern over his increasingly authoritarian grip on power, the Guardian reported.
Trump’s congratulatory message strikes a starkly different tone than the statement issued by the US state department on Monday, which urged Erdoğan to respect his citizens’ fundamental rights and noted the report’s findings of “irregularities on voting day and an uneven playing field during the difficult campaign period”.
According to a readout of the call provided by the White House, the two leaders discussed the recent developments in Syria, the US response to the chemical attack in Syria and “agreed on the importance of holding Syrian president Bashar al-Assad accountable”.
On Sunday, Turkey narrowly approved a package of constitutional amendments that will dramatically reshape the country’s system of government. The proposal replaces the country’s parliamentary system with a presidential one and abolishes the role of the prime minister.
The “yes” camp prevailed with a slim majority, just 51.4% compared with the opposition’s 48.6%, according to Turkey’s electoral commission. The main opposition party immediately contested the result, citing a series of irregularities, and critics raised concerns about the fairness of the vote in the fraught political environment. The vote will take days to confirm.
Asked during the White House daily briefing to respond to the result and Erdoğan’s accumulation of power, press secretary Sean Spicer echoed the state department statement and said he would withhold reaction until a final report is published.
“Before we start getting into their governing system, let this commission get through its work,” Spicer said.
Erdoğan’s move to consolidate power, which could potentially keep him in office until 2029, comes just eight months after he survived a failed coup attempt last summer. Erdoğan responded by declaring a state of emergency and cracking down. With the aim to “cleanse all state institutions”, the president suspended or dismissed roughly 120,000 people, including state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and detained another 47,000 on coup-related charges.
Trump’s congratulatory call stands in contrast to the cautious response from several European leaders. Some officials appeared wary of further antagonizing Turkey, urging restraint and a commitment to Democratic values. Others were more forthright and declared Sunday’s vote the end to Turkey’s decade-long attempt to join Europe’s 28-member bloc.
“With what happened yesterday, (Turkey’s) membership prospects are buried, in practical terms” the Austrian chancellor, Christian Kern, said in a statement. “We are entering a new era”.
Trump also spoke to Erdoğan in early February. On the call, Trump reaffirmed Turkey as a strong Nato ally and a partner in the fight against the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group.
The leaders again discussed the campaign against the the terrorists group on the call on Monday and agreed on “the need to cooperate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends”, the White House said.
The two nations disagree on the American plan to fight Isis in Syria. Erdoğan has deep reservations about the American plan to arm Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers terrorists. The issue has been a sticking point in US-Turkey relations, and was front and center during a visit to Ankara last month by the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.