Turkey went to the polls for municipal elections on Sunday, 30th of March. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the clear victors. They not only kept control of the two largest cities (Istanbul and Ankara) but also maintained the lion’s share of the votes. (40%+) Thus, although this post chronicles certain acts of electoral fraud, I do not want to give the impression that the AKP did not deserve to win the elections, or that they stole the elections on the whole.
Turkey is becoming increasingly polarised between the AKP and its opponents. Whilst masses congregate in public calling for the PM to resign, Erdoğan signals to the ballot box. Effectively, he has turned the local elections into a referendum on himself and his government where the gained electoral majority is translated into a mandate to carry on with the current state of affairs. Winning at the polls has become somewhat of a habit for Erdoğan: 3 nationals and 3 locals, not to mention the referendum.
The local elections come on the back of too many things that can’t be readily summarized in a few lines. For a start, Prime Minister Erdoğan and his cabinet(s) have been implicated in leaked conversations that detail acts of corruption, bribery and censorship. Whether you buy into these tapes or not, in order to keep a lid on this mountain of dirt, the party has effectively dismantled all mechanisms of checks and balances. They have tampered with legal structures, ignored court verdicts, taken away basic rights like freedom of expression and freedom of information through the banning of internet sites like Twitter, YouTube and hundreds of political websites, and also legitimised the police’s brutality against the public while not granting them their right of assembly.
Berkin Elvan, a 15 year old kid was shot in the face with a tear gas canister by a policeman whilst on his way to a corner shop last May. He died after clinging onto life for 269 days. The day after his funeral, Erdoğan referred to Berkin as a terrorist, blamed him for his own death and got thousands to jeer at his mother in an election rally…
Murathan Mungan, a celebrated Turkish writer has a saying that goes, “you can be anything in Turkey, but you can’t be a disgrace”, meaning that no matter how low you stoop, you can still clear your name in Turkey. Erdoğan sees these elections as a way to clear his name and counter the crisis of legitimacy the party faces.
Whilst elections are indeed a core aspect of democracies I want to highlight an abundant number of incidents that suggest the recent municipal elections might not have been “free and fair” after all. Customarily, Turkey is not a country where election fraud takes place, but this time there is much to suggest that it is a distinct possibility.
Indicators of Electoral Fraud
More than 50 million people went to the polls amid high participation in the elections. Beyond those that merely cast their votes, a record number of citizens volunteered to observe the count, collecting copies of ballot box recordings. Throughout the day, vigilant volunteers documented acts of electoral fraud and pointed to noteworthy differences between the figures provided in records of the ballot boxes and the figures recorded by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) box staff.
The CHP set up a 50 person call centre so that issues at the ballot boxes could be reported and official reports could be written up as evidence. A nonpartisan campaign called Oy ve Ötesi was set up to monitor the elections at the polling stations. The aim was to have 33,000 volunteers spread across every polling station in order to guarantee free and fair elections.
Reports were shared through sites like Twitter – still banned at the time(!) – and Facebook. Crowdmaps were created where anyone could submit reports of election fraud or voter intimidation by SMS, email, twitter, iPhone/Android apps, and through the website https://2014secim.crowdmap.com/. All reports for the crowdmap are available here: link. There was also a Tumblr account where people uploaded pictures, video, and other proof of election fraud that took place. http://hilelisecim2014.tumblr.com/
The credentials of the elections were already tarnished weeks before the day of the election. On March 12, it was discovered that 312 envelopes and tens of stamps to be used on the day of the election were stolen.
On the day of the elections, monitors and journalists were often refused access to polling stations across the country. Reports that riot police and AKP supporters surrounded several vote counting centers, refusing to let any election monitors in started spreading.
Individual mistakes at the ballot box were circumvented by the burning of spoiled ballots and their replacement by new ones. Only problem is, the majority of documented pictures showing burnt or binned ballot papers overwhelmingly belong to the opposition CHP. Moreover, it was reported that the number of burnt ballots discovered in the trash did not match the official number for ruined ballots at many polling stations. Sometimes the number of votes AKP candidates received were more than the number of eligible voters for that polling station!
There are all sorts of incriminating videos circulating on YouTube – still blocked in Turkey (!) – like that of a poll worker admitting that she made AKP ballots out of empty ballots, creating fake AKP votes and cramming them in ballot boxes.
Then there were electricity cuts in over 40 cities across Turkey. Some of the most contested cities had to count votes under candle light. To make matters worse, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yıldız come forward and declared that the electricity cuts were the result of a cat walking into the transformer unit.
Contested election results
Days after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed victory in a very close race in the capital of Ankara, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest alleged fraud at the polls. The riot police have been using water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowd of protesters surrounding the Supreme Electoral Council in Ankara. The people have been demanded a recount of local election results, in which the ruling AKP party narrowly won.
As Erik Meyersson analyses in some detail -although preliminary- it is definitely within the realm of possibility that the results in Ankara were rigged given that there is a correlation between AK party votes in Ankara and the number of ballots declared invalid for the CHP.
The AKP have appealed the results in the southern metropolis of Adana which were declared for the Nationalist MHP. The northwestern city of Yalova, where the AKP’s candidate won only by a single vote according the first results, changed hands after the recount, in favor of the CHP.
In the city of Ağrı, Sırrı Sakık, one of the key figures of the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP), won the election by a narrow margin of only 10 votes of difference over the AKP’s Hasan Arslan. The provincial electoral board ordered to recount the votes in the 196 ballot boxes of the city’s constituency, despite reports that the votes had been counted 14 times without any change in result.
The latest development at the time of writing was that the Ankara Election Board had rejected the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) appeal for the recount of votes in Ankara. CHP will keep pushing to no avail. After all, Melih Gökçek from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has begun his fifth term as the mayor of Ankara on April 5.
The CHP need to ask why they are not able to gain more votes at a time when the AKP are so vulnerable. We need to see that governmental interference in the rule of law doesn’t impact on AKP voter preference; that government interference in the media does not impack on AKP voter preference; that corruption allegations do not have an impact on AKP voter preference. So what the opposition parties need to do is to ask what conditions the voting behavior of those that vote for Erdoğan.
There seems to be evidence of electoral fraud, but that doesn’t change the fact that the AKP were overwhelmingly victorious.