Europe on Edge: Turkish Strongman Wins Sweeping New Powers

Fears of dictatorship rise after Erdogan wins referendum, observers question integrity of vote

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won vastly expanded powers in a referendum on Sunday, the results of which have been questioned by opponents of the Turkish strongman.

Around 51.4 percent of Turks voted to reject their country’s current constitutional system and give the president sweeping executive authority, while over 48 percent rejected the changes, according to Turkey’s electoral body, which has upheld the validity of the vote.

“There are those who are belittling the result. They shouldn’t try, it will be in vain.”

“We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” Erdogan told supporters in Istanbul following the announcement of the results on Sunday evening.

Nevertheless, it is clear that opponents of Turkey’s Islamist president aren’t willing to accept the results. Stefan Schennach, one of 20 EU observers sent to monitor the referendum process, called the process “unfair and unfree.”

“We leave today … under this unfair and unfree circumstances 49 percent is a big success for opposition and NGO’s,” Schennach tweeted.

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The international observer mission sent to monitor the voting process also said that the “Turkish referendum fell short of international standards,” AP reported on Monday morning.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which also sent observers to monitor the voting process, said on Monday that the vote was conducted on “an unlevel playing field.”

According to OSCE official Tana de Zuleta, Turkey’s electoral board allowed ballots missing official stamps to be counted, clearly undermining anti-fraud measures. The OSCE has also claimed that the vote occurred in an atmosphere of intimidation and that the referendum question itself wasn’t properly listed on the ballots.

It is hardly surprising therefore that Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is challenging up to two-thirds of the referendum results. “Our data indicates a manipulation in the range of 3 to 4 percent,” the party tweeted.

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If upheld, the referendum results would effectively grant Erdogan dictatorial powers. It would abolish the position of prime minister, in which executive authority is actually supposed to reside, and transfer all executive power to Erdogan. It would also grant the president the power to issue decrees and give him control over the judicial system.

Erdogan appeared to warn his opponents on Sunday against challenging the results. “There are those who are belittling the result. They shouldn’t try, it will be in vain,” he said. “It’s too late now.”

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