OSCE to monitor Turkey’s elections against possible intervention from cats

OSCE to monitor Turkey’s elections against possible intervention from cats

A sizable number of opponents to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are convinced that elections in Turkey have been rigged. I am among those who believe that while there might have been irregularities, they were not large enough to change the big picture; the AKP has won elections to this point not because of election fraud, but because at least half of the nation either appreciates the party’s policies or prefers the ruling party to the alternatives.

The positive side to the perception that elections have been rigged is that it has triggered civil initiatives to monitor elections. A lot of people have become election observers for the first time in their lives thanks to those civil initiatives. By becoming election observers, a lot people, for the first time in their lives, have taken part in citizen activism, a rather unfamiliar concept for those who did not fear that their lifestyles were threatened until the AKP came to power.

In addition to civil initiatives, there will also be international observers monitoring the upcoming general elections. The Turkish government has officially invited the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), an organ of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to monitor the June 7 elections.

As is the case with any member country, Turkey was committed to inviting the ODIHR to observe parliamentary elections. The official invitation was made last month, ODIHR spokesperson Thomas Rymer told me yesterday.

“We are now in the process of determining the format and the size of the election observation mission,” said Rymer. A needs assessment mission will be dispatched to Turkey soon to talk with the stakeholders in the election, including the government, political parties, non-governmental organizations and the media.

The size and format of the election observation mission will be determined following the recommendations of the assessment mission, so the messages that the stakeholders give will be critical.

Whether they share it or not, it is important that the stakeholders convey the suspicions that have become widespread among certain sections of the electorate about the fairness of the elections.

Last year’s presidential election was rather simple, but the AKP government has still come under severe criticism for incidents that took place during vote-counting, especially during the March 2014 local elections that preceded the presidential election.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız’s statements that cats entered power distribution units, to explain why electricity cuts took place during vote counting, only served to increase these suspicions. The elections in Ankara, for instance, were highly contested, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) request for a recount was denied by the Supreme Election Board (YSK).

Counting votes will be especially critical for the coming election, as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will try to pass the 10 percent election threshold. Even one vote could be decisive on whether the party makes it into parliament or not. If it cannot get enough votes, it will be to the benefit of the ruling party, which has loyal and dedicated officials who will not shy away from using the party’s privileged position, as well as its members’ numerical majority, in ballot box contests where the result might be neck and neck.

The election monitoring delegation’s mandate will not be limited to the day of the voting. The ODIHR also looks at other issues like how candidates are nominated, electoral campaigns, the media environment, voter registration and voting technology.

The ODIHR will release an interim report before the elections. It will be interesting to see how they portray the stance of the president, who is constitutionally supposed to remain neutral and not interfere with the electoral campaign. Obviously, this will not be the case with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.