As Turkey goes to the polls for its most important election in modern history, there are many reasons why the election and the results could be extremely suspect. Held under emergency law, the coalition between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has introduced new laws for the election.
The left-wing and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) opposed the legislation and produced a briefing, seen by The Canary, which sets out some of the problems that people could face.
1. Voting lists
Under the new laws, voters living in the same building will be able to register at different polling stations. The HDP believes this means that voters will no longer be able to check who is on voting lists. It states:
It may also allow a large number of people without voting rights to vote in the relevant polling district…
2. Ballot boxes
Governors are authorised under the legislation to merge or move ballot boxes. In many areas, Kurdish officials have been jailed and new ones have been appointed by the Turkish state. The HDP believes that this means they can act:
under direct orders from the government, undermine the principles of neutrality and independence as well as the civilian nature of elections, particularly in the Kurdish provinces.
The HDP further believes that if ballot boxes are moved it will make it difficult for voters to access them and prevent citizens from voting.
3. Unsealed votes
During the 2017 referendum, which gave Erdoğan sweeping powers, there was controversy after unsealed votes were counted. In previous elections, envelopes containing votes had to have an official stamp to seal them. But this is now not the case.
According to the HDP, during the referendum, the Supreme Electoral Board sent out an SMS message saying unsealed votes, ones without an official stamp, could be counted. And the new law gives more legitimacy to the practice. The HDP says that:
With the new bill, the government first of all admits that it was unlawful… in the referendum to count votes in unsealed votes in unsealed envelopes as valid. The bill just legalises an unlawful practice.
4. The 10% threshold
Under Turkish electoral law, a political party has to gain 10% of the vote to gain seats in parliament. But the new bill favours coalition parties. Because if parties are in a coalition they only have to get 10% of the vote between them to enter parliament. According to the HDP:
The AKP made this amendment specifically for its political ally MHP, which has the risk of remaining below the ten percent electoral threshold, and in clear violation of both the Constitution and universal law. Rather than abolishing the extremley high and anti-democratic ten percent threshold, which is retained in the law to exclude the Kurds from parliamentary politics, the AKP has circumvented it by allowing the MHP to pass the threshold through an electoral alliance.
5. Previous electoral problems
Criminal investigations of journalists and media outlets for support of terrorism and defamation of the president, the blocking of websites … and the effective seizure of some prominent media outlets reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views and information.
This is still largely the case today. According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey is one of the biggest prisons for journalists in the world. And during this election campaign, Erdoğan has dominated the airwaves with 67 hours of coverage devoted to the current president.
But while Turkey faces huge challenges to its claim to be a democracy, there is still hope. And whatever happens on 24 June, Kurdish communities will continue their struggle for freedom, democracy and self-determination.
– Also write to Theresa May and your MP. Ask them to urge Turkey to resume peace talks with its internal opponents, and to release all political prisoners. Until that happens, ask them to cancel and stop approving arms sales to Turkey; and support Campaign Against Arms Trade to help make that happen.
Featured images via screengrab and author’s own