Turkish gov’t blocks 2 MEPs from participating in OSCE election observation mission

The Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has barred two European parliamentarians from entering Turkey to participate in an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observation mission, prompting warnings about the transparency and fairness of presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The bans for the two parliamentarians from Germany and Sweden, European countries that are home to large ethnic Turkish communities, are fueling concerns among rights activists that voting irregularities will go unchecked.

According to a report by Deutsche Welle (DW), the Turkish government has blocked German parliamentarian Andrej Hunko from traveling to the country to serve as an election observer ahead of this Sunday’s polls

The Turkish government accuses Hunko, a member of the German Bundestag for the Left Party (Die Linke), of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Hunko was set to travel to Turkey before being notified by the OSCE that he would be denied entry.

Hunko told Germany’s DPA news agency that the OSCE informed him of the Turkish ambassador’s announcement shortly before his flight from Vienna to Ankara was to depart. Hunko, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the Left Party, participated as an OSCE election observer in the April 2017 constitutional referendum in Turkey. The German Foreign Ministry said it was seeking to have the ban lifted.

Turkey’s opposition claimed irregularities in the referendum, which was narrowly approved and changed Turkey from a parliamentary into a presidential system. Hunko criticized the “undemocratic and unfair conditions” under which that vote was held and suggested possible fraud was responsible for the narrow passage of the referendum.

In an interview with German state broadcaster ARD in January, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu singled out the Left Party and Hunko for being “fans of the terrorist organization PKK.” He also pointed to pictures of Hunko holding up a PKK flag at Kurdish demonstrations in Germany.

Hunko has supported delisting the PKK as a terrorist organization and criticized a German ban against PKK symbols. However, the German deputy has rejected suggestions that he is close to the PKK.

“It is certainly absurd that the Turkish government acts as though I travel as an OSCE election observer in Turkey and make propaganda for the PKK,” Hunko said on Thursday. “That shows the Turkish government is nervous about the vote.”

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry also announced that Jabar Amin, a Swedish lawmaker of Turkish origin from the Greens Party, had also been refused entry. According to The Associated Press, Amin had his passport seized upon arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and was prevented from leaving the airport.

“We have just recently been informed that Jabar Amin has been denied entry into Turkey. We have raised the issue with Turkish representatives and demand an explanation,” said Gunnar Vrang, a spokesman for the Swedish foreign ministry.

Amin later announced that he had returned to Sweden.

The Turkish opposition and civil societies are planning to be out in force at election sites across the country to monitor voting amid concerns of fraud. Sunday’s election, which will be held under a state of emergency, is also the first under new electoral laws passed earlier this year by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ultranationalists. Among the changes, ballots no longer need an official stamp to be considered valid.

Allegations of fraud in last year’s referendum centered around the validity of some unstamped ballots, which the electoral commission deemed valid contrary to election laws.

Other changes made to the electoral law allow security forces to enter voting centers if requested by voters. The government says this is needed to prevent the PKK from pressuring voters, but the Kurdish opposition says it will lead to security forces intimidating Kurds into voting for the AKP.

Another change in the law allows ballot stations to be moved to other districts for security, a tactic the Kurds say is designed to suppress the vote in the Southeast.

Therefore, Turkey’s main opposition parties and NGOs said they plan to deploy more than half a million monitors and volunteers at polling stations across the country to prevent fraud in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

The opposition, which hopes to end President Erdogan’s nearly 16-year hold on power, says recent changes to Turkey’s election law and allegations of fraud in the referendum last year both raise concerns about a fair vote.

The parties, together with nongovernmental organizations, said on Thursday 519,000 volunteers and party-appointed monitors would be at 180,000 polling stations.

The referendum was marred by a last-minute decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to accept unstamped ballots. The opposition and lawyers said the move jeopardized the legitimacy of the vote and violated electoral laws. Up to 2,5 million votes could have been affected by the move, a senior official in the OSCE had said after the referendum.

“The changes made to the electoral law have made the elections less secure,” said former European Court of Human Rights judge and former opposition lawmaker Rıza Türmen. “Leaving the administration of the elections to the bureaucracy, security forces and government instead of political parties is worrying,” Türmen said at a news conference.

Yurdusev Özsökmenler, deputy chairwoman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told Reuters that around 120,000 voters would be impacted by the relocated stations, but that the HDP would help transport voters to the polls and help ensure lawyers were present at polling stations in order to protect against fraud and intimidation.

“There is a state of emergency, and it is implemented like martial law in the Southeast. These elections will be held under the shadow of a gun,” she said.

Onursal Adigüzel, deputy chairman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the opposition platform had launched a mobile app where volunteers could coordinate to make sure there were enough delegates at all polling stations. The app will also provide live vote counts and a database of appeals against irregularities at polling stations, he said.

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