EP President Tajani calls for fair and free elections in Turkey

Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament.

The Turkish people must be given the opportunity to participate in elections that are free and fair, with the media being allowed to ensure the public makes an informed decision in presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, The Parliament Magazine quoted European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as saying.

“It is important that the media in Turkey provides all necessary information for voters. It is also necessary for the Turkish media to explain exactly who they are working for, whether it is for the Turkish regime or others,” Tajani told the magazine.

Turkey heads to the polls under a state of emergency implemented in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Journalists from media outlets closed under state of emergency decrees continue to face prosecution, conviction and imprisonment, the magazine said.

Last month, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europ (PACE) called for the postponement of Turkey’s elections, citing the state of emergency. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım quickly responded, saying: “The Parliamentary Assembly should mind its own business.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, following a speech by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he said, “If our nation says ‘OK’ [meaning enough], then we will step aside,” T A M A M (OK in Turkish) reached number one in worldwide trends on Twitter.

More than 1,7 million tweets have been posted, including tweets from presidential candidates Muharrem İnce of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Akşener from the İYİ Party.

“If one day our nation says ‘enough’, then we will step aside,” he said in a speech in Parliament.

The most divisive politician in recent Turkish history, Erdoğan has ruled for 15 years, overseeing a period of sharp economic growth and a widespread crackdown against his opponents. Last month he declared snap elections for June 24, bringing the polls forward by more than a year.

Soon after the speech, the #Tamam hashtag swept across Turkish-language Twitter, then became a global trending topic. “We want democracy so we say #enough to Erdoğan. Please leave your seat, you did insane things to our country and people. Enough,” said one user.

“You will not step aside quietly. You will give account for the things you did. Enough!” said another.

Erdoğan’s rivals in the presidential polls also jumped in, with the “Tamam” tweets from three of his main opponents together garnering more than 10,000 retweets. “Time is up. Enough!” tweeted CHP candidate İnce.

Social media has become the primary platform for opposition against the government in Turkey, where traditional media is saturated with coverage of Erdoğan and his ministers. Erdoğan’s speeches, usually two or three a day, are all broadcast live on major channels, while opposition parties get little to no coverage.

The “Tamam” tweets also provided a rare moment of opposition unity with all major parties, including the pro-Kurdish opposition uniting behind the hashtag. Pro-Kurdish politicians and nationalists rarely find common ground.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticized Ankara for its deteriorating record on civil rights and have voiced concerns that the NATO member has been sliding further into authoritarianism under Erdoğan. The government claims the measures are necessary due to the security threats it faces.

After the vote, Turkey will switch to the powerful, executive presidential system narrowly approved in a referendum last year.

Social media has become one of the most important mediums for Turkish public opinion since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013. According to a Reuters report in June 2017, 60 percent of Turkish citizens do not trust the news media. “Mainstream media is controlled by government mostly,” said the report.

Also on Tuesday, İsmail Saygılı, a concerned citizen, filed a criminal case against Turkey’s public broadcaster, TRT, over the lack of coverage of İnce and Akşener’s election campaigns, the Sözcü daily reported.

“As a citizen, I am being deprived of my rights because of TRT’s choice to not cover presidential candidates’ meetings and press conferences,” Saygılı said in his petition.

The CHP’s İnce also warned TRT for the same reason, saying, “TRT belongs to 80 million citizens,” during a rally in Ankara. According to Odatv, TRT broadcast six minutes of İnce’s press conference on Tuesday during a visit by the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) after being pressured by the opposition.

In March 2017, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Saruhan Oluç sent a petition to Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) complaining about TRT’s embargo of her party. Oluç showed that in addition to not broadcasting any HDP news, TRT had allocated 1,390 minutes to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 2,723 minutes to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), 216 minutes to the CHP and 48 minutes to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) between March 1 and 22, 2017.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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