Orbán only European leader to congratulate Erdogan on Turkish referendum

April 19, 2017

Turkey’s state news agency has revealed that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán joined the ranks of leaders of several autocratic states as he congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a narrow referendum victory on Sunday.

The news was first reported by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency news wire which was noticed by Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, as Orbán failed to inform Hungarian state news of his intentions. Congratulations were also extended by Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its minister Péter Szijjártó, who said at a press conference on Tuesday that Hungary “has nothing else to do” than to respect the results of the Turkish referendum. According to Szijjártó, Europe must avoid the dangers that could be posed were the migration agreements between the EU and Turkey to be jeopardized and therefore must accept the decision.

The historic referendum, which approved radical changes favored by Erdogan with a 51.4% yes vote, will grant him sweeping new powers by eliminating the office of the Prime Minister and transforming the country into a presidential republic, thereby clearing the way for Erdogan to remain in office as late as 2029. The changes will be the most drastic since the country’s foundation in 1923, and critics of the referendum result warn that it amounts to a vote for dictatorship, and reveals deep divisions within Turkish society.

Erdogan said at a victory speech in Istanbul on Sunday that he would “immediately” begin talks on the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey, a move that would end Turkey’s decades-long attempts to join the European Union. Szijjártó, while urging respect for Erdogan’s victory, warned on Tuesday that the death penalty is incompatible with European integration and unacceptable to the European Union.

European leaders have approached the issue with caution, mostly refraining from comment. Some leaders, however, expressed reservations about the vote: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads the country with Europe’s largest Turkish minority, warned 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.” 63% of German Turks voted in favor of the changes.

The European Commission has called on Turkey to launch a transparent investigation into alleged irregularities in the vote, and a Western official with knowledge of EU policy said, “There will be no call to Erdogan from the Commission, certainly not a congratulatory call. Turkey is sliding towards a semi-authoritarian system under one-man rule.”

A number of foreign leaders, however, have greeted the result with calls of congratulations to President Erdogan, including the leaders of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar and Sudan. Prime Minister Orbán set himself apart from every other EU leader by calling Erdogan on Sunday to express his congratulations to the Turkish strongman.

United States President Donald Trump also called Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on the victory, contrasting with more cautious comments from the U.S. State Department, which noted a finding by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of voting irregularities and an “unlevel playing field” in the campaign leading up to the vote. The State Department urged Turkey to maintain open political dialogue between both sides of the issue. Erdogan initiated the referendum after an alleged coup d’état attempt last July.