PACE: State of emergency negatively impacting electoral environment in Turkey

State of emergency (OHAL) conditions are negatively impacting the electoral environment ahead of Turkey’s critical parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24, said a report released by a pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Thursday.

A pre-electoral delegation from PACE visited Ankara to assess the election campaign and preparations for the early presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on June 24, 2018, while Turkey is under a state of emergency.

During two days of meetings, the delegation met with a wide range of interlocutors, including the head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of political parties from different political affiliations, journalists and media representatives, NGOs, the chairman of the Supreme Electoral Board (SBE), the vice president and members of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTSC) and the speaker of parliament.

All interlocutors underlined the crucial character of the forthcoming electoral contest which will institutionalise the transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system. On 24 June, presidential and parliamentary elections will be held together for the first time.

The delegation, which is led by Olena Sotnyk (Ukraine, ALDE) and consists of Nicole Duranton (France EPP/CD), Maryvonne Blondin (France, SOC), Lord David Blencathra (United Kingdom, EC), Nikolaj Villumsen (Denmark, UEL), Adele Gambaro (Italy, FDG) and Marianne Mikko (Estonia, rapporteur of Monitoring Committee), noted that the six candidates running in the presidential election will offer a genuine and pluralist choice to voters. At the same time, it regretted that an insufficient number of women have been included in the electoral lists for the parliamentary contest.

The high stakes of these elections make it even more important for the Turkish authorities to do their utmost to ensure that they are free, fair, transparent and in line with international standards and that the electorate is able to make an informed choice and to have confidence in the electoral system throughout the country.

The delegation noted that substantial amendments to the electoral law were adopted only one month prior to the announcement of the elections, while the so-called harmonisation laws were adopted even later. It reiterated that having such a short lapse of time between the introduction of changes to the electoral legislation and the holding of elections is not in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and is contrary to the usual notice given in previous elections in Turkey. Some opposition parties pointed out that the process that led to the introduction of the amendments was not inclusive and that, as result of the extremely short time available, they could not adequately prepare.

A number of interlocutors raised concerns about the substance of the new electoral legislation, which weakens safeguards in the area of election security and transparency and against the risk of interference of the executive in the election administration. The provisions that appear to be particularly problematic include those which recognise the validity of unstamped ballots, allow for the transfer or merging of ballot boxes for security reasons at the initiative of governors, restrict the notion of the ballot area and broaden the possibility for police forces to be present in polling stations. A positive measure is the introduction of mobile ballot boxes, which should have a positive impact on the political participation of persons with disabilities provided that adequate safeguards are in place.

The delegation was informed that an opposition political party has challenged some provisions of the electoral law before the Turkish Constitutional Court. It also took note that the Monitoring Committee had asked the Venice Commission for an opinion on the new electoral law and the harmonisation laws. It regretted that, despite the fact that far-reaching amendments were introduced in the electoral law, the concerns expressed by the Assembly and OSCE/ODIHR during previous election observations were not addressed, including the electoral threshold of 10 percent, which is the highest in Europe.

Many interlocutors underlined that the state of emergency and the limitations to freedom of expression and assembly that have been introduced under its aegis, together with the ongoing security operations in the Southeast and the high number of arrests of politicians and journalists, negatively impact the electoral environment and limit the space for democratic debate, which is even more essential during an electoral campaign.

The delegation was concerned to hear reports of violent incidents during the electoral campaign.

Some opposition representatives complained about interference with their ability to campaign freely, safely and without hindrance. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) informed the delegation that its presidential candidate, who is in pre-trial detention, cannot campaign and that many HDP parliamentary candidates have been barred from running.

Against the backdrop of wider concerns as regards freedom of the media, several interlocutors drew the delegation’s attention to the unequal media coverage and visibility of different political parties and presidential candidates to the advantage of the ruling party and the incumbent president. The delegation recalled that guaranteeing equal media access to different political forces and candidates and an impartial coverage of the campaign is a fundamental precondition to enable the electorate to make an informed choice. It regretted, therefore, that Decree Law no. 687 repealed the possibility for the Supreme Electoral Board to subject radio and television broadcasters to sanctions, should they fail to be impartial and politically neutral during the election period.

With regard to the election campaign and party funding, the PACE delegation regretted that previous recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) relating to funding of electoral campaigns and political parties have remained unaddressed. It took note that many interlocutors confirmed that the legal framework in these areas requires further development. The delegation was also made aware by several interlocutors of the risk of State resources being used by the ruling party in the context of the campaign.

The delegation heard concerns about the impartiality of ballot box committees to adequately manage the election day due to the recent legal amendments to their composition.

The delegation called on the political parties to make full use of their right to appoint representatives to sit as members for the different levels of the electoral administration and as observers, with a view to enhancing the transparency of the electoral process and the trust of the voters. It also welcomed the assurance given by the chairman of the SBE that national and international observers will be allowed to observe all steps of the electoral process including the counting of the vote and the tabulation of the results as well as the newly introduced procedure to publish on the website of the SBE the minutes of each ballot box as they are received.

The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 33-member delegation to observe the early presidential and parliamentary elections of June 24.

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