Turkey votes in presidential and parliamentary elections amid fraud claims

Turks began voting on Sunday amid claims of fraud in presidential and parliamentary elections that pose the biggest challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) since they swept to power more than a decade and a half ago.

Voting began at 8:00 Sunday morning across Turkey, where 56,322,632 citizens are eligible to vote today in the elections. A total of 180,000 65 polling stations were set up in 81 provinces. Polls will close at 5:00 p.m.

As citizens started to vote in the early morning, a man named Cengiz Keleş and another unidentified man were seen holding empty voting envelopes at the Mesut Yılmaz Elementary School in Diyarbakır. The men were caught by monitors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and handed over to the police.

CHP ballot monitor Doğan Hatun said: “As I was going through the classrooms where ballot boxes are stationed, I saw a man with empty YSK envelopes in his hands. I saw him going from classroom to classroom distributing these envelopes, even though we didn’t have any missing envelopes. We tried to stop him. He said they [the other man he was with] were put on duty ‘by the judge.’ We told him that we spoke with the judge, too, and that there is no such practice. Then they tried to run, but we caught them and handed them over to the police. A man whose last name is Keleş threatened me. We stopped them as they were trying to steal votes. Everyone at polling places should be aware in case something like this happens at other schools.”

Protested by voters and ballot officers, Keleş and the other man were escorted out of the school by the police. HDP Diyarbakır parliamentary candidate Garo Paylan, DBP Diyarbakır Co-chair İbrahim Çiçek and HDP Diyarbakır Co-chair Filiz Buluttekin went to the school to monitor the developments.

Moreover, AKP deputy İbrahim Halil Yıldız, who is standing for office in the general election, on Sunday “battered” balloting staff at multiple polling stations in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeastern town of Suruç, forcing voters to cast their votes in favor of the AKP and the re-election of Erdoğan, the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported.

Yıldız was involved in a incident earlier this month win which four people were killed and 12 injured in a fight that broke out over the use of Kurdish political movement colours by shopkeepers in Suruç. Yıldız demanded the Kurdish nationalist colours of yellow, red and green be removed from a shop. An argument broke out, with Yıldız saying he would have the shop shut down unless the shopkeeper complied.

Yıldız and his entourage seized the cell phones of election volunteers and forced them out of the school buildings, Mezopotamya said. The staff were then beaten by Yıldız and his security team, the agency noted.

The pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF) also reported that some 40 HDP monitors were removed from polling stations by force in Şanlıurfa province. Women were not reportedly allowed to vote at ballot box no: 2044 in the Bulduk village of Şanlıurfa’s Eyyubiye district. Men voted but women were prohibited from casting their votes at ballot box no.1196 in Şanlıurfa’s Geçit village.

Moreover, it was reported that votes were cast en masse in ballot boxes Nos. 1043 and 1044 at GAP Anadolu High School in Suruç. Opposition party monitors were denied access to the voting area for ballot boxes Nos. 2179, 2180 and 2181 in the Karaali village of Şanlıurfa’s Eyyubiye district.

Village guards in Koçkar village of Diyarbakır’s Kulp district blocked the road to the village and prevented the HDP’s monitors from entering the village. The HDP members cannot be reached by phone and nobody has heard from them since.

It was also claimed that in the Adak village in the Derik district of Mardin province, which has 204 registered voters, the village headman threatened people to vote out in the open. The headman threatened balloting officers and the HDP district chair when they objected.

Some monitors were also reportedly not allowed enter schools in Van province.

A ballot box officer allowed two people to vote in ballot box No. 2425 at Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Anadolu High School in the Çankaya district of Ankara province, claiming they were on the rolls when they weren’t.

The elections will usher in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdoğan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.

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