‘Oy ve Ötesi’ aims for fair election results, and beyond

‘Oy ve Ötesi’ aims for fair election results, and beyond

At a time when the public’s trust in fair elections in Turkey is on the decline, a civil initiative is ready to once again mobilize thousands of volunteers to ensure an accurate counting of the votes cast.

“Oy ve Ötesi” (Vote and Beyond), which was founded in the aftermath of the Gezi Protests of June 2013, first came under the spotlight in the March 2014 local elections, when they had around 30,000 volunteer independent polling clerks who were on duty at the polls to ensure a fair count.

The rate of Turkish citizens who believe “the elections will not be fair” has increased from 28 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2015, according to a recent survey conducted by academics Ali Çarkoğlu and S. Erdem Aytaç, which was  made public earlier this month.

In 2007, 70 percent of respondents said they believed “the elections would be fair,” but this rate has decreased to 43 percent in 2015, according to the survey.

A total distrust in the election system may have catastrophic results, and people should be aware that ensuring fair elections is not that difficult if people take responsibility and be at the polling stations, according to Sercan Çelebi, one of the founders of “Oy ve Ötesi” and the spokesperson of the initiative, which was reorganized as an association in April 2014.

“There are many problems with the election and campaigning system in Turkey, but ensuring a fair count is the easiest one [to solve],” Çelebi told a group of journalists on May 12. “That is why we initially focused on this part.”

Çelebi said the group was founded with three concrete targets.

“The first objective of ‘Oy ve Ötesi’ was to increase voter turnout. Second, ‘Oy ve Ötesi’ aimed to facilitate the link between candidates and voters,” said Çelebi.

“The third objective of ‘Oy ve Ötesi,’ the one that gained the most public attention, was election monitoring,” he said.

According to the current election law, all political parties running in the election, and independent candidates, have the right to have official observers at the polling stations. Those observers have the right to object to the counting process, if necessary, and obtain an official copy of the polling station’s results.

Since independent observers are allowed to be at the polling stations during the counting, but have no legal right to object, the volunteers of “Oy ve Ötesi” are instated as observers of a political party or an independent candidate. However, the initiative is careful to stay independent and not be associated with any political party.

“Five political parties, and some independent candidates, have agreed to have our volunteers at the polling stations,” Çelebi said, noting they will offer the volunteers the choice of any of those official badges for legal purposes, but they will still be independent “Oy ve Ötesi” observers.

For the June 7 general elections, the group chose 45 provinces where the results are expected to be close, and aims for 120,000 volunteers to monitor 62 percent of the total votes.

In this election, the group will also use software, dubbed T3, to ensure a fair count. The results from polling stations, provided both by “Oy ve Ötesi” volunteers and party monitors, will be entered into the system and they expect to make their findings public in less than 24 hours. The system will compare the results with the official results and the parties will be informed if there are any inconsistencies.

The group’s monitoring of the March 2014 elections proved irregularities in 36 polling stations in Istanbul’s Kağıthane district, and as a result, 29 trials are ongoing about the officials involved in the fraud.

So far, around 20,000 people have applied to volunteer in the June 7 elections, and although the number is far below the target of 120,000, “Oy ve Ötesi” officials, based on their past experience, are confident that the applications will boom as the election date nears.

To ensure fair counting, in a country where almost half of the population does not believe the election will be fair, is important, but it is the one fault that is the easiest to solve, according to Çelebi.

“When you are at the polling stations, whether it is the volunteers or political party members and officials, the problem is fixed,” said Çelebi. “But the real difficulty lays in the major problems, such as the nomination process, the high election threshold, transparency of campaign finances, the use of public funds and institutions in the election campaigns, the impartiality of state officials etc.”

“Oy ve Ötesi,” with its thousands of volunteers, is ready to help ensure that the people’s will is correctly reflected in the election results. Once it is done, the time will come to go beyond and challenge the core problems in Turkey’s election and campaigning system.