Legitimacy of rigged referendum’s result in Turkey widely questioned by Turks, EU and US

As opposition groups have taken the streets of many Turkish cities to protest allegedly rigged referendum results, both the European Union (EU) and the US officials have refrained to comment over the announced voting results until seeing the OSCE findings.

The international observers monitoring the constitutional referendum in Turkey will present their preliminary post-referendum statement at a news conference on Monday in Ankara. The mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The statement will be delivered by Cezar Florin Preda, Head of the PACE delegation, and Tana de Zulueta, Head of the ODIHR Limited Referendum Observation Mission. The International Observation Mission comprises 63 observers from 26 countries, including 40 long-term observers and experts deployed by OSCE/ODIHR and 23 parliamentarians and staff from PACE.

Stefan Schennach, an Austrian member of a PACE team sent to Turkey to observe a referendum, has said on Sunday that the referendum on a constitutional amendment package to bring an executive presidency to the country was neither free nor fair.

“[A]fter our mission in Diyarbakir + Mardin we got deeply worried, referendum was neither fair nor free: police blocked 2x observation,” Schennach said in a Twitter message posted following the referendum.

PACE announced last Monday that it would send a 20-member delegation to Turkey to observe the conduct of the referendum on constitutional amendments, alongside observers from the OSCE/ODIHR. In January, the PACE Monitoring Committee expressed concern in a statement about the content of the proposed constitutional reforms and the conditions under which a referendum would be held in Turkey.

Limited Referendum Observation Mission of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR LROM) had stated in their interim report on April 7 that supporters of the ‘No’ campaign in Turkey faced campaign bans, police interventions, and violent scuffles at their events. According to interim report released by OSCE/ODIHR LROM over Turkey’s constitutional referendum, “the campaign is characterized by polarization and some restrictions.”

Meanwhile, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement on Sunday and stated that “We take note of the reported results of the referendum in Turkey on the amendments to the Constitution, adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 21 January 2017.  We are awaiting the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission, also with regard to alleged irregularities.”

The statement has continued: “The constitutional amendments, and especially their practical implementation, will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations as a EU candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe. We encourage Turkey to address the Council of Europe’s concerns and recommendations, including with regards to the State of Emergency. In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation.”

 US State Department Spokesperson has also refrained to make any comment on referendum before seeing the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission. The Spokesperson sent a statement to Washington Hattı news portal when asked whether they have any comment over the results of the elections results, and stated that “We are, of course, following the referendum voting outcome in Turkey. We will refrain from commenting until the results have been confirmed and OSCE/ODIHR has reported on its initial findings.”

Despite both Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, together with Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the head of Supreme Board of Election (YSK) have announced that “yes” vote won the majority in the referendum, allegations on the widespread and systematic election frauds have marked and overshadowed the historic voting.

Over 55 million Turkish citizens voted across the country on Sunday in a historic referendum proposing constitutional changes. Citizens cast their ballots at 167,000 polling stations nationwide. Over 1 million of them were first-time voters who recently turned 18.

As irregularities with regards to procedures during the polling for a historic referendum were revealed opposition groups reacted. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has said it will object to the referendum results on grounds that the vote for the constitutional amendment were manipulated in terms of content and method, a party senior has said.

“Since the morning there has been a serious chaos all over Turkey. The Supreme Board of Elections [YSK] has declared that the board will deem voting papers without official seals as valid. They cancelled voting papers without seals in the ballots abroad. It was the same board that did this,” CHP deputy leader Erdal Aksünger said. He also stated that the opposition party will make necessary appeals to object.

“In eastern and southeastern cities, the election observers from the ‘no’ groups were removed from their ballots. There were many violations in terms of the form of the elections. There were people who voted outside booths, violating the secret ballot rule. There were people who went to the ballot boxes with their village governors; these are all violations,” he added.

The YSK, however, stated on its website that unless there was no proof that ballot papers and envelopes were brought from outside, they will be accepted as valid. Although head of YSK on Monday announced that there is no problem regarding the validity of the unsealed ballot papers used in a public referendum in Turkey on Sunday, it has emerged that the same election authority cancelled local elections in Bitlis’s Güroymak district and Muş’s Serinova district in 2014 due to presence of unsealed ballots.

Turkey held local elections on March 30, 2014. The YSK decided to renew elections in these two districts due to the presence of the unsealed ballot papers. The elections were renewed on June 1, 2014.

Pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has also announced that the party will object to the results. “Irrespective of the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ victory, we will object to two thirds of the ballots. The information we have received indicates a 3 to 4 percent manipulation,” the HDP announced through their official Twitter account on late April 16.

Former Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lawmaker Meral Akşener, who renegaded from her party months ahead of the vote to campaign for the “No” vote, also criticized the YSK decisions.

“About the voting papers without the YSK seals; it is a scandal! It is a scandal that the YSK has announced that they will deem it valid. Two of our lawmaker friends are making the necessary appeals,” Akşener said in a televised interview on private broadcaster Fox TV late April 16.

Akşener also stated that the state-run agency’s results indicated a manipulation. “According to the official results received by the YSK, the ‘No’ votes lead by 52 percent,” she added. “On the other hand, the information we have received from YSK indicates that the entire results were not registered by the YSK yet. Anadolu Agency is making the manipulation,” she said.

While chair of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, called on his party to hold an emergency meeting, in many cities people have gathered on streets and rallied to protest rigged and manipulated referendum results.  CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu has said that his party would object to the results of Sunday’s referendum on the grounds that the vote for the constitutional amendments was manipulated by the YSK in terms of content and method. 

“Due to YSK interference, the referendum results have become questionable. Now, I am asking: Why would you make such a decision? Rules cannot be changed in the middle of the game. The YSK literally cast a shadow over the decision made by this nation. We will be checking this closely,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Hours before the unofficial results were announced late on Sunday night the YSK declared that the board would deem voting papers without official seals to be valid. The board also declared on its website that unless there was proof that ballot papers and envelopes were brought from outside the polling place, they would be accepted as valid. The announcement reportedly came after a board meeting following a high number of complaints regarding unsealed ballot papers.

Citizens of Turkey cast their votes on Sunday in a historic referendum on whether to switch the system of governance to an executive presidency amid reports of alleged voter fraud across the country. The state-run Anadolu news agency said 99.9 percent of the votes had been counted, leading to a “yes” win with a 51.23 percent majority.

Meanwhile, President Erdoğan on Sunday said he would immediately discuss reinstating the death penalty with the government and the opposition while addressing a crowd celebrating the results of a Sunday referendum in front of Huber Palace in the Sarıyer district of İstanbul.

“I will say ‘I have always encountered this in the field.’ (MHP leader) Bahçeli already said, ‘I will support it’ and (Prime Minister) Yıldırım likewise. But [Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal ] Kılıçdaroğlu also said he would support it. If he really supports it and it comes to me, I will approve it. Otherwise what will we do? We will have another referendum on that, too,” Erdoğan added.

The issue of reinstating capital punishment in Turkey has strained ties with the European Union after Erdoğan and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suggested its reintroduction following a failed coup attempt last summer.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on March 19 that reinstatement of capital punishment in Turkey would “lead to the end of negotiations” with Ankara for its membership in the EU.

“Executing the death penalty is incompatible with membership of the Council of Europe,” said Daniel Holtgen, director of communications at the Council of Europe and spokesperson for Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland, in reaction to the Turkish government plan to introduce the death penalty.

Responding to criticism from the EU, Erdoğan said during a rally in Antalya on March 25: “They say that if the death penalty is reinstated, Turkey will not have a place in Europe. We do not need that place.”

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as a part of reforms to facilitate Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although the death penalty has not been used since 1984. (SCF with turkishminute.com) April 17, 2017

 

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