Turkey again at ballot boxes for knife-edge election, five months on
CİHAN photoOnly five months since the last general election failed to produce a single-party government, Turkish voters return to polling stations on Nov. 1, with slim prospects of a substantial difference raising the stakes for all parties.
The five months since the June 7 vote have seen renewed clashes between the security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), major attacks likely staged by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and a widespread feeling of vulnerability amid security gaps.
On Oct. 30, Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan warned that any attempt for “coercion” or “electoral fraud” would be penalized, though opposition parties and civil society organizations remain vigilant against fears of electoral fraud.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have assigned 500,000 party members each to guard polling stations, but the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) says some of its members tasked with observing the polling stations in critical provinces have been detained in recent weeks.
“In some provinces of the east and the southeast, the ability to campaign freely has been considerably restricted by the deteriorating security situation, with Special Security Zones declared and/or curfews imposed,” stated an interim report by an observation mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“These measures have been criticized by some OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors as politically motivated and beyond the legal framework,” said the report dated Oct. 23 and released by a Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) deployed by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
In each polling station, a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which heads the interim government, is part of the Ballot Box Committee, while a member from each party is also present as an observer and an assistant. As a result, three AKP members will be present in each polling station, Deputy Prime Minister Akdoğan has stated.
“When considering those party members in charge of schools and the floors [of buildings where elections will be held], around one million from the [AKP] will be on duty,” Akdoğan told the state-run Anadolu Agency, also recalling that 385,000 security forces would provide election security.
Around 255,000 of the forces he mentioned are police officers and 130,000 are gendarmerie forces reinforced by the Land Forces personnel.
Mustafa Ataş, the AKP’s executive in charge of party organization, said they would be taking “no extra measures” on election day.
“Our security forces have taken the required measures, but it is very important that our citizens are also sensitive and file complaints in order to protect their rights. I’m warning from here that those who try to rig the election, who threaten citizens, who try to shape citizens’ will at the polling station, or who vote on other people’s behalf, will receive a very heavy penalty. All will be brought to book within the law,” Akdoğan said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and government officials have repeatedly claimed that the PKK coerces voters, particularly in the predominantly Kurdish-populated eastern and southeastern Anatolian regions, in favor of the HDP.
However, HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgin has said that party members who planned to be on duty at polling stations have been particularly targeted by police raids.
“Especially in critical provinces, our members in charge of ballot boxes have been detained,” Bilgen said, expressing deep concern over the possibility of fraud conducted through the relocation of polling stations or during the transportation of votes.
In mid-October, two polling stations in the southeastern province of Şırnak were moved, despite a decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) rejecting the relocation, for “security” reasons.
“On June 7, we made progress with extra sensitivity of citizens,” said CHP Deputy Chair Bülent Tezcan, referring to an improvement in the vigilance of Turkish voters about potential electoral fraud. “The same sensitivity needs to be displayed now.”
An intricate “election calculus simulator” similar to the one used by the YSK has been set up at the CHP headquarters, Tezcan also added.
MHP Deputy Chair Oktay Öztürk said they had trained and tasked 500,000 party members to guard election security.
In addition to security concerns, all parties’ vigilance stems from the fact that even a slight 0.1 to 3 percent swing in votes in 39 constituencies across the country would play a decisive role in whether results yield a single-party victory.
Founded in August 2001, the AKP won three consecutive parliamentary elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011 and was able to form a single-party government after each election.
However, in the June 7, 2015 election, the AKP dropped to fewer than 276 seats in parliament, the number needed for a legislative majority. It had aimed for the 330 seats needed in order to change the constitution without input from other parties and thus pave the way for a new presidential system equipped with more power and fewer checks and balances.
After failing to secure a coalition, AKP leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu formed an interim cabinet ahead of the November re-run.
In the run-up to the June 7 election, Erdoğan held a series of large public rallies during which he made little secret of his preference for single-party rule by the AKP, despite constitutional clauses that require the president to be impartial. Many believe that he wanted another election to enable the AKP to win at least a parliamentary majority so he can continue to rule as a de facto executive president.
The June 7 election was the first election that the AKP entered without Erdoğan’s leadership, instead led by Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who was elected as party leader in August 2014 after Erdoğan became president in a popular vote. At this year’s party congress, Davutoğlu was reelected as party leader.
Erdoğan’s rhetoric favoring a single-party government’s rule for “stability” has been consistent over the last five months. His near-omnipresence in the media has also been a continuation of the situation before June 7, and has been fiercely criticized by the opposition parties.