President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in Sunday’s closely contested national referendum in Turkey even as opposition parties and international observers pointed to irregularities in the voting that will dramatically reshape Turkish politics, jettisoning the country’s parliamentary democracy and granting sweeping executive power and near absolute control to the country’s president. The result is nothing if not worrisome and appears to be another step in Erdogan’s years-long accumulation of power and the country’s descent into authoritarianism. How did the White House react to the news? President Trump called and congratulated President Erdogan, who campaigned on behalf of the reforms and will surely be the chief beneficiary of the changes.
It’s unclear what exactly Trump was congratulating Erdogan on other than simply winning, which is his favorite thing. Other branches of the American government, namely the State Department and even Sean Spicer, reacted in a much more measured way. Since the July 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan has been emboldened to crack down on any semblance of independent press and set out purging large swaths of the country’s bureaucracy to try to diminish the perceived influence of the followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan accuses of controlling state institutions through his followers positioned there.
With the constitutional changes, Erdogan could now rule the country until 2029 with far fewer checks on his power. The changes won’t go into effect until the 2019 election, but on Monday the Turkish government imposed its third consecutive state of emergency giving Erdogan’s AK Party many of those powers immediately.