President Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on "his recent referendum victory," the White House confirmed. A narrow 51 percent of Turks approved a referendum on Sunday that granted Erdogan broad new powers, according to unofficial results, changing Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidency, most consequentially giving the president power to appoint judges and prosecutors.
Opponents of the referendum, carried out under a state of emergency in place since an attempted coup in July, are calling for a recount of at least a third of the vote, and election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) say the voting was marred and fell "well short" of democratic norms, in part because opposition to the referendum was almost entirely excluded from Turkish media made for an "uneven playing field." Under the emergency powers, Turkey has arrested some 40,000 Erdogan critics, including a record number of journalists, and fired at least 100,000 more Turks.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner nodded toward Turkey's apparent slide toward authoritarianism on Monday, saying the U.S. expects Turkey's government "to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens" and supports "Turkey's democratic development, to which commitment to the rule of law and a diverse and free media remain essential." European leaders adopted a similar tone, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioning that 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."
Erdogan, an Islamist who has led Turkey since 2003 as prime minister and then president, hit back at his European critics and what he called a "Crusader mentality in the West" on Monday, telling supporters that the OSCE "should know its place" and he doesn't "care about the opinions of 'Hans' or 'George,'" apparently a stand-in for European critics. "All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over," he said.
Europe is depending on Turkey to stem the northward flow of Syrian immigrants and the U.S. uses Turkey's Incirlik air base to attack Islamic State targets in Syria. "Both the U.S. and EU are in a bind," Michael Werz, a Turkey analyst with the Center for American Progress, tells The Washington Post. "They can either [disagree with] the OSCE findings, or they can say the truth: It was not a free and fair election."