European delegations on the ground for pre-electoral observation

European delegations on the ground for pre-electoral observation

European delegations on the ground for pre-electoral observation A six-member cross-party delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) paid a pre-electoral visit to Turkey on May 5-6 for observation ahead of the June 7 elections, underlining concerns about the 10 percent election threshold, the involvement of the president in the pre-electoral campaign, mistrust in the electoral process and insufficient transparency in campaign financing. 

The PACE delegation said equal conditions should be guaranteed to all participants in the elections according to the Turkish legal framework and to Council of Europe standards in a written statement released May 6.

“The delegation regrets that the high electoral threshold of 10 percent has still not been lowered, despite repeated recommendations from the Parliamentary Assembly and from the Venice Commission,” the statement said. 

Serious concerns were expressed by the interlocutors the delegation met with over the involvement of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the pre-electoral campaign, despite a clear constitutional provision that he remains without bias while in office, the statement said, noting the possible misuse of administrative resources was mentioned by some interlocutors. The delegation also cited concerns expressed by some interlocutors about insufficient transparency in political party funding and campaign financing.

The delegation met with leaders and representatives of Turkey’s main political parties, the chairman of the Supreme Election Board (YSK), representatives of the Interior Ministry, the president and members of the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) and representatives of civil society and the media.

The delegation noted with satisfaction that the conditions allowing Turks living abroad to vote in 47 foreign countries have improved and should ensure easier access to polling stations. However, the surveillance of the 24-day storage of ballot papers and the security of their transportation back to Turkey for counting still raised some concerns, the delegation said.

A number of political party representatives have raised concerns relating to the transport of ballot boxes and the security and reliability of the final electronic tabulation, a process which is not open to observers, read the statement. 

The delegation called on the authorities to ensure that electoral boards abroad have a composition similar to those within Turkey. Moreover, the delegation expressed its readiness to observe the elections abroad to the YSK president.

The delegation also recalled that all broadcasters, including the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), are required to ensure impartial and equal media coverage of the campaign, in regards to political advertising and allocation of airtime. 

The delegation regretted that the shortcomings identified by PACE in the 2014 presidential elections, namely unequal allocation of airtime to political parties and the fact that decisions by the YSK are final and cannot be challenged, remain unaddressed.

The delegation welcomed the increase in female candidates in the elections, as well as the inclusion of representatives of ethnic communities. A fully-fledged delegation of about 30 PACE observers will return to Turkey to observe the election in June.

As the PACE delegation finalized the first round of its visit to Turkey, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) deployed a Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) on May 7 to observe the 7 June parliamentary elections.

The mission is led by Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens and consists of a core team of 11 experts based in Ankara and 18 long-term observers to be deployed across the country.

The day after the elections, the mission will join with observer delegations from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the PACE to issue a statement of preliminary findings and conclusions at a press conference. The ODIHR will issue its final report on the observation of the entire electoral process approximately eight weeks after the end of the observation mission.

Speaking to reporters on May 7, Ahrens did not want to elaborate on the YSK’s rejection of recent complaints from main opposition parties about Erdoğan’s intervention into the electoral campaign, saying it was too early to comment, though he reiterated the OSCE’s earlier criticisms about the 10 percent electoral threshold and the inability to appeal or correct the YSK’s decisions.