‘Transparency problems’ may hit election campaign financing
‘We believe contributions [to the presidential election campaigns] should be made public before the elections in a weekly basis; as a preventive measure,’ says Hançerli of the Checks and Balances group during an interview with the Daily News. ‘This will discourage possible wrong doings,’ he says. HÜRRİYET photo, Levent ARSLANTurkey will elect its president directly for the first time. The law that regulates presidential elections only allows for individuals’ contribution to finance the campaign of the candidates, a positive stipulation according to the Checks and Balances network, an initiative that gather more than 150 nongovernmental organizations.
But the law was prepared hastily and there are some problematic areas that can overshadow the transparency and accountability of electoral campaign financing according to Turan Hançerli, one of the spokespersons of the checks and balances network.
First of all, can you tell us about the Checks and Balances network?
This is a network comprised of, as of today, 155 nongovernmental organizations. The number of new participants is rising every day. We are aiming to have 300 NGOs by 2015. These NGOs represent all of Turkey’s different colors. The point of departure was 2011, when proposals for a new civilian democratic Constitution were sought by NGOs. Those NGOs, which volunteered to submit their proposals to Parliament, joined under one roof with the initiative taken by the National Democratic Institute, as well as the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabancı University. While talking about how to work together, we realized that focusing on rights issues distanced the groups from each other, as they all had different views. But we also saw that we all agreed on one point: the need for checks and balances. We observed that every NGO strongly stands for that. We then decided to focus our work not on the issue of rights, but checks and balances. Since then we have been working as the ‘Checks and Balances’ network. We have a working plan until June 2016 and we have perspectives for beyond 2017.
You are currently focused on the presidential electoral campaign, can you tell us about it.
We have prepared a report for the transparency and accountability of the presidential elections. The finance of politics is a very important and highly controversial issue in Turkey. The electoral law on presidential elections actually endorses very positive arrangements. To begin with, financing is provided by the people. Only individuals can contribute to the financing of the electoral campaign and there is also a ceiling at around 9,000 Turkish Liras for each individual’s contribution. This is a positive step for democracy. The financial source should be open and legitimate; otherwise the person who provides the financing could take the candidate under their influence after the elections.
But you claim there are some shortcomings to the law?
Indeed. The law should secure the transparency, accountability and fairness of financing with the electoral campaign. Contributors will be made public according to the law, but only after the elections and only of the candidate who wins the elections. Sharing information after the elections is not enough as far as transparency and accountability is concerned. Information about contributions could be made public weekly, for instance.
What’s the problem with receiving the information after the elections?
We need to intervene if there is a problem. Debating something once it is over is not meaningful, and in fact, is harmful. Additionally, the information to be made public should be done in a way in which we can verify them. It happens in our daily lives; sometimes, we take a look at the balance sheet, but don’t understand much. So the information provided should be clear.
An issue of concern is the fact that the law permits contributions below a 1,000 liras to be done through receipts. Contributions above 1,000 liras are supposed to be deposited to the banks. We believe all contributions should be done through banking transactions. We think receiving contributions through receipts can lead to suspicions. For instance, a businessperson can donate much more than the upper limit using his employees. No one can know that and verify it. This is a point we believe can overshadow transparency. That’s another reason we believe contributions should be made public before the elections in a weekly basis; as a preventive measure. This will discourage possible wrong doings.
The relationship between the candidate and the political parties seem to be problematic as well.
On the one hand, political parties cannot provide direct financing, yet the Supreme Election Board [YSK] said political parties can organize meetings. But on the other hand, political parties cannot give their offices or vehicles to the disposal of the candidates. The law about presidential elections was enacted in 2007, but in a very hasty way. As of today, we see that when a law is endorsed without detailed debates, we run into problems. There is a similar problem about casting votes abroad. The law that foresees the procedures for voting abroad stipulates that Turks living abroad can only cast their votes for political parties. The law on presidential elections refers to that law, but we know that we will cast our votes for persons not parties. Right now this is not an issue that is debated, but it shows how the laws were endorsed without properly considering all of the details.
So this is going to be a test case?
Of course. But there are many other issues. For instance, there is also the issue of propaganda. We want televised debates. There were serious injustices during the local elections on the share of candidates and parties in the media.
There is also an issue about sanctions.
The information about the campaign money and how it is spent is required to be sent to the YSK only after the elections. It is vague what will be done in case of irregularities. The YSK does not have the necessary infrastructure for the verification of the money spent. The law says the YSK can ask the assistance of the Constitutional Court. What we propose is for an independent monitoring institution to be tasked. We also believe there should be an upper limit as to the amount of money spent. If there is no upper limit, a power that can spend serious amounts of money can get the upper hand and in order to secure justice there should have been an upper limit. On top of that we don’t think it is ethical to spend so much money in elections. We believe all spending should be done via banks.
So what is your general evaluation?
Obviously, we wish that there won’t be any problems, but we believe there are areas of potential problems as far as transparency and the accountability of the campaign’s financing.
Who is Turan Hançerli
Turan Hançerli was born in 1975 in Tokat. Hançerli graduated from Istanbul University’s law faculty. He did his post graduate studies at Bilgi University.
He is currently the deputy head of Turkey’s Association of the Disabled. (Türkiye Sakatlar Derneği).
He was elected as a member of the assembly of Avcılar Municipality in the local elections held in March.
He is also a member of Checks and Balances network coordination board.
He has been working actively on rights for the disabled and discrimination issues. He has worked in a coalition of nongovernmental organizations that prepared a report on the disabled in Turkey within the framework of United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He currently works as a lawyer.