Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vigorously defended his narrow margin victory in a referendum granting him greater authority and power, dismissing criticism of the result by Turkish opposition parties, European election observers and protesters while making clear his government was moving on.
“Debate about this issue is now over,” he said in an occasionally combative speech at his sprawling presidential palace that mentioned the 25 million voters who had supported the measure. “We are not going to stop,” he said, according to an English translation of his comments on a state news channel.
His comments came hours after Turkey’s main opposition party demanded that the vote be annulled because of irregularities, and after the European observers released a preliminary report saying the vote “fell short” of adherence to international standards. The complaints, along with scattered protests, dashed hopes that Turkey’s rancorous debates over the referendum would subside after the vote.
By a very small margin, Turkish voters on Sunday approved constitutional changes that will radically transform the country’s system of government, abolishing the post of prime minister and shifting from a parliamentary system. The new model strengthens the clout of the presidency just eight months after a coup attempt aimed at toppling Erdogan’s government.
The outcome has laid bare deep political divisions in Turkey and could have wider resonance in everything from Turkey’s decades-old bid for membership in the European Union and Turkish interactions within NATO to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in neighboring Syria.
A statement from ’s office said President Trump spoke with the Turkish leader Monday night and congratulated him on the referendum win. The two also discussed the war in Syria, the statement added.
Opposition complaint : Turkey’s election board decided to accept ballots that were not stamped with an official seal
A primary opposition complaint is that, as voting was underway, Turkey’s election board decided to accept ballots that were not stamped with an official seal, in contravention of the law. Election board officials have said they were trying to avoid suppressing votes and that the decision was not unprecedented in Turkey’s elections.
A Turkish foreign ministry statement accused the observers of having “disregarded the principles of objectivity,” calling the report a reflection of a “biased” approach. In his speech at the palace, Erdogan warned the European observers to “know your limits” as they prepared their final report, which he also dismissed, in advance.
“We will not see it, we will not hear it, we will not accept it,” he said as supporters cheered.
In Europe, leaders noted the serious rifts in Turkey and urged Erdogan not to or risk possible new blows to the already strained relations between the European Union and Turkey.
Protests were reported in districts of Istanbul and elsewhere Sunday night against a decision by the election board to accept ballots in envelopes lacking official stamps. Vote tallies indicated the referendum had been defeated in Turkey’s three largest cities.
The new changes would allow Erdogan, who came to power as prime minister in 2003, to run for reelection in 2019 and serve two five-year terms making his status as the most consequential leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic.