Election fraud concern grows

Election fraud concern grows

At the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) headquarters in Ankara, in the office of Deputy Chairman Tuğrul Türkeş, fellow MHP Deputy Chairman Oktay Öztürk, the party member responsible for Law and Election Affairs, show numbers and charts one after another to substantiate his claim about the last parliamentary elections of 2011. He wants to alert me about the possibility of election fraud for Turkey’s upcoming local elections on March 30, a growing concern among people from almost all parties.

Based on the efforts of the “months-long work of a special working group,” Öztürk claims that by taking advantage of some holes in a computer program and politically manipulating a small group of public servants, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) might have gained an extra 10 points in the 2011 elections to reach a rare 50 percent support.

“This is different than simple ballot box fraud,” Öztürk explains, “There is a unit within the Supreme Election Board (YSK) where all box results from election offices of towns and cities are typed into the computer for the final result. There are some 20-25 public servants who are doing all the input work.

The computer computes the figures they are typing in. The law says these figures should be the same as those reported by provincial offices. But we have findings that they were not all the time. And because the software confirms that the number of votes used remain the same, without showing the alterations among parties, nobody can work it out easily within the time permitted for objections.”

Öztürk claims that in 2011 the AK Parti’s real vote might have been 39.8 percent, instead of the “declared” 49.8 that meant an extra 32 seats in Parliament. Even 39.8 percent would have been sufficient for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a government, but it cost a dear 12 seats to the MHP and 20 to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The debate was taken to Parliament back in 2010, and then-Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin tried to assure that the computer software was not susceptible to such fraud.

I asked the MHP’s Öztürk: “So why is Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, from the AK Parti, also warning about possible election fraud?”

“There may be two reasons:” Öztürk replied. “Those public servants who are good with technology were probably close to Cemaat. [The followers of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar who used to be a close ally of Erdoğan, but who became an arch enemy after the graft probe started on Dec. 17, 2013.] Then they were on good terms. Perhaps Gökçek is afraid that system may not work this time. The second option is that he might be after a new trick and trying to hit a preemptive strike.”

The CHP has already established an Election Results Watch System under its deputy chairman, Emrehan Halıcı. Gülsün Bilgehan, a CHP deputy, asked for “voters from all parties” to either note down or take photos of election results from their boxes in order to compare these later with the YSK ones.

Civil society is on alert as well. Two civil initiatives, www.oyveotesi.org and www.sandikbasindayiz.org have already mobilized some 20,000 volunteers for a total of some 33,000 boxes in the 14-million populated city of Istanbul. They are also making calls on the web for another 13,000 in order to allocate one non-partisan observer to every box, in addition to the observers of the parties.