Turkey needs fair elections more than ever

Turkey needs fair elections more than ever

“They perversely want to create the perception that there will be fraud in the elections. Turkey is a banana republic, but that of Esed [Bashar al-Assad] is not.” This quote belonging to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is taken from a tweet that was retweeted by his press advisor.  So there is no problem with its authenticity.

I am not sure of who the foreign minister is accusing of “perversely” creating a perception. But indeed there are certain political figures and political scientists raising concerns about securing the fairness of the March 30 local elections.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed, through leaked audio recordings, such allegedly perverse acts that make us think some in the government might see no problem in forcing the limits of immorality with practices that have no place in democracy. But the concerns about the fairness of the election does not stem from the assumption of intention or prejudice. The concerns are not simply based on the conviction of some people who might think the government has proven so lawless that no doubt there will be fraud in the election. But they are based on technical issues.

To name but one example, one such issue is the number of ballots to be printed; a concern raised by Cem Toker, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party. Prior to the 2011 parliamentary elections, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) decided to have 19 million (or 38 percent) more ballots printed than the number of registered voters, ordering nearly 69 million ballots, according to Toker. The YSK traditionally has only ordered around 5-10 percent extra ballots printed.

Toker’s party has questioned the fate and storage locations of the extra 19 million ballots, as well as the nearly 6.5 million unused ballots belonging to voters that did not go to the polls. Toker is not convinced of the answer he received from different institutions.

Recently, Sezgin Tanrıkulu from the main opposition Republican’s People Party (CHP) officially asked the government why 141,645,161 ballots were printed; threefold the registered number of voters.

These are relevant questions. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has raised no objection to an eventual EU mission to observe the elections, it is not possible to understand the reaction of the foreign minister who seems to accuse those raising justifiable concerns of being immoral and a fan of al-Assad. Election irregularities can happen anywhere and even foreign observers were sent to the U.S. elections, which does not happen to be a banana republic. Unfortunately with his reaction, Davutoğlu risked being perceived as a minister of a banana republic.

Turkey is certainly no banana republic. And people want to preserve Turkey’s clean track record for organizing fair and competitive elections. That’s why we might witness, for the first time in many years, a rise in the number of those who will volunteer to monitor election results. We might witness some other firsts as well. We can see a higher participation level this time, as opponents of the government are mobilized to get the voters to the ballot box.

As far as the AKP’s supporters, there is no such problem; the AKP’s local branches are very good in mobilizing their supporters to go to the ballot box. Yet, those who were not supporting the AKP, but also not fond of other parties, abstained from voting. In Istanbul’s Kadıköy district alone the number of abstentions was more than 80,000 during the last local elections.

Finally, the rate among youngsters in participating in the elections could be higher this time as well.

Political scientists say the rate of participation is generally low among youth in Turkey. The AKP’s supporters from younger generations are very much mobilized, but those who were not particularly attached to any political thought might have become mobilized after the Gezi events, which could raise the participation rate among youngsters.

By all means, these local elections will be very critical and interesting and there is nothing wrong to ask for them to be fair.