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MURAT YETKİN >Controversy over Turkish referendum grows

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Controversy over the Turkish referendum results on April 16 are growing, as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appealed to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on April 18 to annul the entire vote due to the board’s decision to accept unstamped ballots as valid during the voting procedure.

The referendum resulted in the approval of an amendment package for a constitutional shift from Turkey’s parliamentarian system to an executive presidential one as President Tayyip Erdoğan has been seeking for 10 years with 51.6 percent of the votes out of the 55 million voters (representing an 86 percent turnout) who cast their votes. But the YSK’s statement raised question marks about election irregularities since the statement underlined that there was no evidence that the ballots were brought into the voting room from outside. 

The claims were suppressed by President Erdoğan on the first night, as he urged the opposition not to underrate the “yes” victory, telling them not to bother “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
There were additional claims raised by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu while addressing his party group in parliament on April 18. He said there were doubts about whether the YSK had made a formal decision annulling the Election Law and the former rulings by the YSK itself, or whether it was a fait accompli by Chairman Sadi Güven following a demand by the representative of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) on the board.  

“The YSK statement to announce unstamped votes as valid is evidence that the “no” votes actually prevailed. We do not recognize the results of this referendum,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

In the following hour, a CHP delegation submitted objection files to the YSK headquarters in Ankara with a demand to annul the referendum.

This move was slammed by the “yes” front. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said separately that the CHP objections were in vain and that the “the game is over.”

But there are also objections by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish issue. HDP MP Pervin Buldan broadcast pictures from her Twitter account and said unstamped “yes” votes had been counted as valid while stamped “no” votes were dumped in the garbage. The HDP is also complaining that they had reports from the east and southeast about intimidation by local governors who told village headmen that they would be held responsible if there were any “no” votes from their villages or neighborhoods. 

Thousands of voters also rushed to the courts on April 18 in big cities to submit their objections about the claims of irregularity regarding the individual ballot boxes in which they had cast their votes. There were also small-scale and sporadic street rallies in some districts of big cities like Istanbul and Ankara on the evenings of April 17 and 18 to protest the referendum procedures, resulting in detentions by the police.

The CHP says that if they are rejected by the YSK, they will appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Zühtü Arslan, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, was in the Beştepe presidential compound in Ankara as the CHP delegation was at the YSK, as the first visitor of president Erdoğan after the referendum. 

According to the constitutional amendements approved in the April 16 referendum, the president will be able to appoint the majority seats in the top court, which will have the power to try the president if and when necessary.

April/19/2017

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