“He’s Not A Dictator, He’s a Democrat”
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Merve Arslan, a teacher, struggles to reconcile her own perception of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey with that of his critics. “He’s not a dictator,” Ms. Arslan, 28, said. “He’s a democrat.”
Ms. Arslan is one of a slim majority of Turks who voted on Sunday to give implicit support for Mr. Erdogan’s style of authoritarian leadership, and explicit approval for a new political system that will formally bestow sweeping powers on his office from 2019.
Turkey’s main opposition party is demanding a recount after voting irregularities were reported in Sunday’s referendum, which Mr. Erdogan won by 51.3 percent to 48.7. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish acronym H.D.P., said that as many as three million votes, far more than the margin of victory, had lacked an official stamp and should be invalidated.
On Monday, Mr. Erdogan received a congratulating him on his “recent referendum victory.” The White House account of the call did not mention concerns about the vote or about the future of democracy in Turkey.
But teams of European election observers also had complaints. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a preliminary report that the vote had been held “on an unlevel playing field,” a reference to a state of emergency imposed by Mr. Erdogan during which lawmakers from one of the main opposition parties were among thousands of people arrested and “no” campaigners were physically intimidated and their rallies and access to public media were limited.
Whatever the outcome of the appeals, the referendum reflected a country sharply divided, with voters in the major cities tending to oppose the changes while those in rural areas, who usually are more religious and conservative, voting in favor of them.
Previously a regional economic powerhouse, Turkey has lost momentum recently, as the Syrian civil war across the border and instability within it have discouraged foreign investment and cut into growth.
After a coup attempt against Mr. Erdogan failed in July, he added to the uncertainty, starting a large-scale purge of his perceived enemies, arresting 45,000 people and firing or suspending 130,000. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Erdogan would reach out to his opponents or use the victory as a mandate for even greater repression.
On Monday, Mr. Erdogan hailed the vote as a major and much-needed step in restoring stability, saying it was the first time that Turkey had changed its political system through “civil politics.”
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