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Erdogan Says Monitors Questioning Turkey's Vote Should 'Know Their Place'

A day after he declared a narrow victory in a referendum vote that radically expands presidential powers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is criticizing elections observers and their concerns about the fairness of the vote.

Decrying a "crusader mentality," Erdogan told a crowd of his supporters that the international monitors should "know their place," according to Reuters. Erdogan added that Turkey did not "see, hear or acknowledge" the reports of irregularities from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Preliminary returns say the presidential proposal passed by just 51 percent of the vote.

The European monitor released preliminary findings about Sunday's poll, saying the vote "took place on an unlevel playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities."

Its report states that "while the technical aspects of the referendum were well administered and referendum day proceeded in an orderly manner, late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard and were contested by the opposition." The OSCE also said the vote did not meet standards set by the Council of Europe.

Allegations of vote rigging are uncommon in Turkey, Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy tells NPR. "We don't know whether the amount of vote fraud was significant enough to change the outcome — or more than 1 percent — but definitely something happened."

But in a country that is deeply divided, "where it's almost half and half for and against Erdogan, if you even have allegations of voter fraud, whether or not it happened, his legitimacy will be completely and constantly questioned by that half that does not vote for him."

That could present problems for Erdogan in the future, Cagaptay says.

Acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said U.S. officials have noted the OSCE's concerns, according to Reuters. "We look forward to OSCE/ODIHR's final report, which we understand will take several weeks."

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wait his arrival to Turkey's capital Ankara on Monday.
Elif Sogut / Getty Images
Getty Images
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wait his arrival to Turkey's capital Ankara on Monday.

Considering how tilted critics called the campaign, NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul says many were surprised at how close the vote was.

"It's close enough that the opposition says it's going to challenge alleged irregularities," he says. "It might be an uphill fight. It could be days or longer before we know the final results."

The new framework expands Erdogan's powers and means he could potentially stay in office until 2029. As Peter explains:

"Power would be more concentrated under the presidency.

"If the referendum is approved by majority vote, the office of prime minister would be abolished after the next elections, scheduled for 2019. Another body, the Council of Ministers, would also go, and all executive and administrative authority would be transferred to the president's office. ...

"The change would increase Erdogan's influence over who runs for Parliament.

"Cabinet ministers would no longer have to be members of Parliament, and the Parliament would not have power over Cabinet appointments — ministers would be appointed directly by the president."

People who voted "Yes" say concentrating power in the hands of the presidency will make the country more stable, while critics say it will fundamentally undercut Turkey's democracy.

Cagaptay says Erdogan "has become the most powerful person in the country's history in at least a century."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.