Trump, un­like al­lies, cheers Turk­ish vote

Di­vi­sive Erodgan trou­bles lead­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND DAN BOY­LAN

Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum nar­rowly grant­ing ex­pan­sive new pow­ers to Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan may dis­tance Turkey from the pro-democ­racy forces of Western Europe, but could bring it closer to Wash­ing­ton, where the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has shown it­self eager to build coun­tert­er­ror­ism al­liances with per­ceived strong­men in the Mid­dle East.

While the United King­dom and the Euro­pean Union ques­tioned the le­git­i­macy of Sun­day’s na­tional vote, Pres­i­dent Trump phoned Mon­day to con­grat­u­late Mr. Er­do­gan on win­ning the author­ity to re­struc­ture Turkey’s par­lia­men­tary sys­tem and ab­sorb many of the pow­ers of its leg­is­la­ture, the Reuters news agency re­ported.

An­a­lysts say the de­vel­op­ment is un­likely to dra­mat­i­cally al­ter Turkey’s for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing Ankara’s bareknuckle pos­ture to­ward the re­gion’s Kurds. Mr. Er­do­gan, they say, can also be ex­pected to more warmly em­brace over­tures from Wash­ing­ton as a pos­si­ble dis­trac­tion from the ap­pear­ance of to­tal iso­la­tion from the West.

“Ba­si­cally, the White House doesn’t care about hu­man rights or free­dom of law or free­dom of press, while the EU is very con­cerned about the di­rec­tion that Turkey is go­ing,” Cenk Si­dar, a Mary­land­based Turk­ish op­po­si­tion mem­ber, said in an in­ter­view Mon­day.

But lead­ers across the EU con­tinue to har­bor doubts when deal­ing with Mr. Er­do­gan, whom they find di­vi­sive. Mr Er­do­gan has of­ten used crit­i­cism from the West as a po­lit­i­cal badge of honor.

The EU’s main elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing body, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe, said in a state­ment backed by British of­fi­cials, that Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum was con­ducted on “an un-level play­ing field,” with many vot­ers un­aware about the con­se­quences of the vote and the me­dia and arms of the gov­ern­ments strongly in Mr. Er­do­gan’s fa­vor.

Mr. Er­do­gan pub­licly dis­missed the charge Mon­day, de­nounc­ing the West’s “cru­sader men­tal­ity” dur­ing a speech to flag-wav­ing sup­port­ers. He also as­serted that for­eign elec­tion ob­servers should “know their place” and that Turkey did not “see, hear or ac­knowl­edge” crit­i­cism that the vote did not live up to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

But French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, Aus­trian For­eign Min­is­ter Se­bas­tian Kurz and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel all is­sued state­ments urg­ing Turk­ish society to en­gage in more open po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue and lament­ing how “di­vided” the cur­rent Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment has be­come un­der Mr. Er­do­gan’s rule.

The U.S. State Depart­ment on Mon­day urged the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to pro­tect ba­sic rights and free­doms as the votes are ver­i­fied, while White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer de­clined to com­ment while the elec­tion re­sults were still be­ing ver­i­fied.

Prior to Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Er­do­gan had en­gaged in war of words over the Turk­ish pres­i­dent’s at­tempt to cam­paign across Ger­many to win sup­port from the 1.5 mil­lion-strong Turk­ish di­as­pora there.

The Ger­mans, who feared Turkey’s new pres­i­den­tial-style gov­ern­ment will be too au­to­cratic and dis­tant from Euro­pean val­ues, made in­ter­na­tional head­lines by block­ing Mr. Er­do­gan from vis­it­ing the na­tion. He then re­tal­i­ated by ac­cus­ing Ber­lin of us­ing “Nazi tac­tics” against him — a charge Ms. Merkel de­nounced as “sad and in­cred­i­bly mis­placed.”

The re­ac­tion from Rus­sia was far more sub­dued on Mon­day, de­spite re­cent ten­sions over the down­ing of a Rus­sia fighter jet by Turk­ish forces near the bor­der with Syria in late 2015. Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters Mon­day that the pro-Er­do­gan vote should be re­spected and that it was “a sov­er­eign af­fair of the Repub­lic of Turkey.”

The re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum, which the gov­ern­ment says passed with just barely over 51 per­cent of the vote, was gen­er­ally greeted warmly in the Arab world and in Cen­tral Asia, where Turk­ish busi­nesses are a ma­jor eco­nomic fac­tor.

Mr. Si­dar, a se­nior di­rec­tor at the risk man­age­ment firm iJet In­ter­na­tional, told The Wash­ing­ton Times, that the anx­i­ety in Europe to­ward Turkey’s anti-demo­cratic trend could be an op­por­tu­nity for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Iso­lated in Europe, Mr. Er­do­gan may reach out to Wash­ing­ton.

That could present the ad­min­is­tra­tion with a win­dow of “lever­age” over the Turk­ish pres­i­dent on mat­ters that have re­cently di­vided Wash­ing­ton and Ankara — most no­tably the U.S. pol­icy of back­ing Kur­dish forces in Syria against the Is­lamic State, Mr. Si­dar said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan won Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum. Turkey’s main op­po­si­tion party urged the coun­try’s elec­toral board to can­cel the re­sults.

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