Turkey’s Vote and Beyond attracts even more volunteers for Nov 1 election
Ayşe Arman - ISTANBULThe president of Vote and Beyond, an association whose 56,000 volunteers successfully monitored Turkey’s June 7 election, has said the group is receiving more requests from volunteers for the upcoming snap poll on Nov. 1.
“It has been less than a week since we opened registrations for the Nov. 1 election but we have already reached 12,000 volunteers. This is a great start. The number was not as high at this stage before the June 7 election,” Vote and Beyond’s Sercan Çelebi told daily Hürriyet.
Vote and Beyond was established in December 2013. It describes itself as “a civil domestic election monitoring mechanism, a civic movement that uses its constitutional and legal rights to observe elections on election day.”
Most of if its volunteers function as independent observers at the voting centers, who are trained in electoral law. The organization’s headquarters conduct cross tabulation to check the official results by collecting the ballot box protocols and comparing them at provincial and ballot box level, making sure that the transition from the ballot box protocol to the government software is conducted correctly.
“On June 7, we were present at voting centers in 46 provinces and 174 districts with 56,000 volunteers, verifying some 130,000 ballot box protocols,” Çelebi said.
Despite widespread fears before the June 7 election, the voting process on polling day was completed with no major claims of fraud or irregularity. Many observers put this success at least partly down to the efficacy of Vote and Beyond, which is now getting ready for the fresh Nov. 1 election. The snap poll is a result of the failure of parties to form a coalition government after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority on June 7.
Rumors of fraud
Çelebi gives short shrift to online rumors that massive fraud could happen on Nov. 1.
“As long as political party representatives and Vote and Beyond volunteers monitor ballot boxes, there is no chance of fraud that cannot be detected at some point on election day,” he said, stressing that everyone should simply focus on doing their job properly.
Some 1,500 volunteers are joining Vote and Beyond every day ahead of the Nov. 1 election, Çelebi said, adding that some were even cancelling holidays to vote or volunteer as an independent monitor.
“We have heard that a tour operator promised to give a full refund if its customers would like to cancel their holidays for the election,” he said, pointing to turnout rates in Turkey that are traditionally higher than most Western democracies.
NGOs like Vote and Beyond, with no links to any political party, “raise hopes for democracy and increase transparency with each election,” Çelebi also said.
“But a healthy democracy cannot be reduced to election day alone. We should also be advancing as soon as possible in very important subjects such as free speech, independent media, transparent and accountable political institutions, the rule of law and a strong civil society,” he added.
Who is Serkan Çelebi?
Sercan Çelebi is the co-founder and president of “Vote and Beyond,” Turkey’s first and only civic domestic election monitoring organization.
A graduate of German High School of Istanbul, Çelebi holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and international studies from Yale University.
He is the chief operating officer at the Studyo Group of Companies, the Istanbul-based umbrella company with a broad range of investments, primarily focused on different areas of mainstream and social media.
He has taken part in several international projects, including the COPA Argentinean Universities Program in Buenos Aires and at the International Institute for Political and Economic Studies (IIPES) in Crete, Greece.
He has worked as an intern at the Turkish Grameen Bank Microcredit Project in Diyarbakır, as well as at the U.N. Development Program in Argentina.
In addition to his native language he is fluent in English, German and Spanish.