OSCE slams use of public funds for Turkish PM Erdoğan's presidential campaign

OSCE slams use of public funds for Turkish PM Erdoğan's presidential campaign

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
OSCE slams use of public funds for Turkish PM Erdoğans presidential campaign

Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine Erdoğan greet their supporters during an election rally in Diyarbakir, July 26. REUTERS Photo / Ümit Bektaş

Concerns that have prompted Europe’s security body to deploy a mission to observe Turkey’s upcoming first direct presidential election have apparently been proven right, as an interim report by the mission has highlighted a wide range of flaws.

“The campaign activities of the prime minister are large-scale events, often combined with official government events. While other candidates actively campaign, the public visibility of their campaigns is limited,” said an interim report released July 31, with only days to go before the first round scheduled for Aug. 10.

A Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) deployed by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) released its report at a time when the opposition parties and presidential hopeful Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two competitors are increasingly voicing their unease with lack of transparency with Erdoğan’s campaign funding.

“The campaign is dominated by a debate on the future of Turkey’s system of government, with Mr. Erdoğan calling for a strong presidential system and Mr. [Ekmeleddin] İhsanoğlu promising to preserve the current parliamentary system. The ongoing situations in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Iraq, the issue of corruption, and the continuation of the Kurdish-Turkish peace process all feature prominently in the campaign. Mr. [Selahattin] Demirtaş has underlined the need to stand with people who face discrimination due to ethnic, religious, gender, or class-based identity,” the mission said, referring to İhsanoğlu, jointly nominated by two major opposition parties, and Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) co-leader Demirtaş.

“Mr. Erdoğan’s campaign is well-organized, well-resourced and benefits from a high degree of visibility through regular travel to the regions, which combines official visits to provincial governors with large-scale rallies that are often followed by iftar [fast breaking dinner], at times organized by the municipality. In Istanbul, Mr. Erdoğan’s campaign banners and trucks prominently featured at the entrance of municipal tents used for iftar,” said the report which was released only a day after the end of three-day long Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of holy month of Ramadan.

“On 19 July, in Ordu, the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM noted that following Mr. Erdogan’s speech, children’s toys and women’s scarves were distributed to the crowd,” said the report, going into details of it observations of the prime minister’s campaign.

The delegation noted that a representative from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) informed them how their party had launched an extensive door-to-door campaign during which it distributes large boxes containing various food items, T-shirts, mouse-pads and cups.
“On 25 July, Mr. Erdoğan openly campaigned during the inauguration of the high-speed train between Istanbul and Ankara,” the mission said.

“Representatives of parties who nominated Mr. İhsanoğlu and Mr. Demirtaş informed the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM that their candidates’ resources are significantly fewer than those of Mr. Erdoğan. Their campaigns have been active, but with limited visibility,” it added.

Overall, the report made clear that key recommendations made by OSCE earlier remain unaddressed, including those related to citizen and international observation.

“The law does not provide sanctions for breach of campaign finance provisions,” it said, while also recalling that candidates are not entitled to receive public funding.

Turkey has been a member of the 57-member body since its very inception in 1975, when it was formed as a standing conference.

Citizen observers

The report said a number of civil society organizations informed the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM about their plans to conduct election observation.

“Some organizations are collaborating with parties in order to be granted accreditation to observe. Others rely on support from the local administration and goodwill of election bodies to access polling stations. Civil society observers intend to focus on counting out-of-country ballots,” it said.

The OSCE/ODIHR will, meanwhile, join efforts with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe PACE, which will deploy observer delegations for election-day observation.