Campaign conditions put fairness of Turkish elections in question

Observers say the Turkish election was not as free and fair as the Erdogan government in Ankara says it was.
Wednesday 27/06/2018
A day after the elections, a billboard with the image of Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is displayed, in Istanbul. (AP)
A day after the elections, a billboard with the image of Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is displayed, in Istanbul. (AP)

ISTANBUL - Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24 demonstrated that elections in this country of 80 million people can be fair on voting day itself but still massively biased to the disadvantage of the opposition.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential race with 52.6% of the vote while his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) held on to power in parliament despite losses with the help of a strong showing of its partner, the right-wing National Movement Party (MHP). On election night, opposition officials initially said partial results published by the state-run Anadolu were manipulated but had to concede later that their own tally matched Anadolu’s count.

An election observer of an opposition party, who was part of a committee overseeing the voting process in an Istanbul polling station and spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview it would be hard to rig the vote on election day itself. “The counting is watched by representatives of all parties, including the opposition,” the observer said. “As soon as the count is finished, everybody takes a picture of the tally with their smart phone and sends it to their party’s headquarters,” she said. Under this parallel counting system, possible discrepancies between the official count and the parties’ records could be immediately exposed, she added.

There were several reports of violence and attempted vote-rigging on June 24, including an incident where a car with three people was stopped by police who discovered bags of filled-out ballot papers apparently on their way to a polling station. But there has been no suggestion that foul-play influenced the final results.

Still, observers say the Turkish election was not as free and fair as the Erdogan government in Ankara says it was.

“Voters had a genuine choice in the 24 June early presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, but the conditions for campaigning were not equal, with the incumbent president and ruling party enjoying an undue advantage, including in excessive coverage by government-affiliated public and private media outlets,” election observers of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.

While television stations, including the state broadcaster TRT, aired almost every Erdogan speech day after day during the campaign, they gave little time to opposition rallies. Muharrem Ince, presidential candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who scored 30.6% on Sunday, was so angry about the conduct of state media that he banned a TRT camera team from covering his news conference the day after the election.

Other restrictions meant further disadvantages for the opposition, the OSCE said. The elections were held under a state of emergency, in place since a coup attempt two years ago, that gives authorities the power to ban public gatherings. “The freedoms of assembly and expression are further restricted in practice, particularly as a result of decisions by provincial governors under the state of emergency,” the OSCE said.

Ankara rejected the OSCE’s criticism and accused the observers of being biased against the government. “We are saddened to note that in the report, OSCE Observation Mission cites examples exceeding the framework of the election process and disregarding the principles of independent and impartial observation,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.