Vote and Beyond deserves praise as civil initiative example
Let me give you two anecdotes about election monitoring in Turkey.
A friend of mine applied to a political party to work on election day as an observer during last year’s presidential election. He then received an SMS asking him to be present at 6 a.m. on the day of the vote. The only problem was that the neighborhood, the school, and the exact ballot box - in short, the location - was missing in the SMS. He tried to reach someone at the party but couldn’t succeed. After two days of trying, he gave up.
Meanwhile, ahead of the recent general election on June 7, I was talking to a candidate from an opposition party and asking him about electoral security. “Our party officials are working on it. Besides, there is Vote and Beyond,” he said. “Securing the votes is actually the responsibility of political parties,” I reminded him.
In recent years there has been tremendous backpedalling on certain issues in Turkey, but the election and the outcome give us a lot of reasons to be optimistic too.
Despite the “unconstitutional” campaign of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and despite the fact that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) used all the state’s means in its favor, the Turkish electorate basically said “no” to the “one-man rule” desired by Erdoğan. This most certainly reflects the Turkish people’s democratic culture.
Despite the undemocratic nature of the campaign period, Turkey has once again passed the test for holding “free and transparent” elections - both on polling day and afterwards. The discrepancies that occurred are standard deviation and do not affect the picture either at the macro or at micro level. This was partly possible thanks to the efforts of Vote and Beyond, Turkey’s first and only civic domestic election monitoring organization.
Established just one-and-a-half years ago, Vote and Beyond mobilized nearly 60,000 election observers in the June 7 election. Its contribution to Turkey’s democratic life is not limited to the fact that it helped consolidate electoral security on polling day and afterwards. It also mobilized political parties on the subject. After all, it is the duty of parties to take measures against possible election fraud. As underlined by Sercan Çelesi, the co–founder and president of Vote and Beyond, in his interview with me in the Hürriyet Daily News, the work of the group has pushed parties to prioritize this issue.
I don’t want to undermine their work, but what they did was not rocket science! Indeed, they introduced an efficient mechanism to cross check results, and I am sure political parties have the required human capital to come up with a similar mechanism. Ultimately, all Vote and Beyond did was tell their thousands of volunteers to simply follow the already existing rules; this in fact is enough to secure votes.
I believe that their real contribution lies more in fighting ignorance, as people fell into the trap of urban legends that lead to frustration and inaction.
Unfortunately, in our country there are a lot of people - even among educated sections of society - who believe in hearsay, without bothering to cross check what they hear.
There was a sizable number of people in Turkey who were sure that there would be rigging on the election day. Unfortunately, the AKP’s arbitrary rule and interventions in certain institutions have played an important role in this feeling of distrust.
The distrust in the system and in institutions can be toxic. What Vote and Beyond did was to question the conviction about election fraud.
“Is the system so bad that it is open to election rigging?” they asked. When they found certain loopholes, they took action to fill in the gaps.
Their conclusion is that we have a well-functioning system. It does indeed have some soft spots, but these are not at the point of leading us to desperation that our vote won’t make any difference.
I think they gave society two main lesson. Firstly, we should not accept hearsay as factual reality; secondly, if a problem exists then instead of just complaining about it we should take action to overcome it.
At the end of the day, Vote and Beyond’s biggest contribution will prove to be its boosting of citizen confidence in Turkey.