by Isobel Finkel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated a crowd of supporters gathered outside his presidential palace on Monday evening to a speech laced with invective against Europe, saying his victory in a referendum on Sunday took place under conditions that were democratic beyond compare.
Erdogan belittled both domestic and foreign critics of the voting process, which culminated in a slim majority of Turks approving changes to 18 articles of the constitution thatconcentrate more power in his hands. A monitoring group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — which said the referendum took place on an “unlevel playing field” — “should know its place,” he said.
“We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George,’” Erdogan said, using the names as stand-ins for his European critics. “All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over.”
The OSCE’s head of mission, Tana de Zulueta, said on Monday that freedom of expression was inhibited during the campaign, that the conditions of the vote fell “well short” of international standards, and that the OSCE was inhibited from the election monitoring that it was invited to do.
The vote was held under a state of emergency that’s been in place since just after a failed coup last July, and which Turkey’s security council will meet tonight to consider extending. Since the coup attempt, some 40,000 of Erdogan’s alleged opponents have been jailed, and at least 100,000 more fired by decree.
The European monitoring organization’s criticisms were echoed by opposition parties inside Turkey, which are asking for the result of the vote to be annulled, as well as by the U.S. state department, whose spokesman Mark Toner cited “observed irregularities” in the way the election was carried out.
In another challenge to Turkey’s European partners, Erdogan said a separate referendum might be held on putting an end to its accession process. Previously, he’d promised to “revisit” the European relationship once the referendum was out of the way. Membership in the European Union had been a long-time goal of Erdogan’s government, and previous Turkish governments for decades.
Such a referendum on continuing the bid may be moot, however, if another of Erdogan’s proposals gets passed. Revisiting a key theme of the campaign trail, he again touted a possible referendum on reinstituting the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004 because doing so is a precondition for EU membership. European officials have made it clear that bringing it back would also bring Turkey’s 54-year accession process to a sudden halt.