As polls were closed and vote counting has been continuing in Turkey’s historic referendum over shifting political system to an executive presidency with extreme and unchecked powers to already autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, widespread and systematic election frauds, violent incidents and scandalous steps taken by biased Supreme Board of Election (YSK) have marked and overshadowed the 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 are first-time voters who recently turned 18. Inmates — except for the criminals who are convicted for intentional crime — were also allowed to vote at 463 polling stations located inside state prisons.
rime Minister Binali Yıldırım has also declared victory for the “Yes” campaign in the constitutional referendum as he emphasized unity in his speech at the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) headquarters in Ankara. Yıldırım told supporters, “This is a decision made by the people. In our democracy’s history, a new page has opened.” “There are no losers in this referendum. The whole nation emerged as the winner,” he said.
As voting was still continuing on Sunday, as contrary to the all past and established implementations, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) has announced that it would accept unsealed ballot papers in the voting, despite of Articles 77 and 78 of Election Law No.298 clearly require authentication of paper voting sheets in advance for the vote to be considered valid. Also, Article 98 of the the same law unequivocally states that voting sheet with no validation seal must be regarded as invalid vote.
According to Güven, seals featuring the word “yes” instead of “choice” would be counted as valid. He also stated that ballot papers on which YSK seals were applied to the front instead of the back would also be deemed valid.
Earlier, “yes” seals had been distributed to voters in the Reyhanlı district of the southern province of Hatay before being collected and replaced with the original “choice” ones. It came out that “Yes” marked stamps were used at several of the 159 ballot boxes set up in Reyhanlı.
YSK head stated that ballot papers or the envelopes that were not stamped with the official stamp are to be considered ‘valid’ as long as it is not proven that they were brought to the polling sites from outside. The scandalous decision of YSK came after a request from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Normally, the ballot papers and the envelopes are counted by polling officers, who are then supposed stamp as many ballot papers and envelopes as the number of eligible voters listed in the official list at their polling station.
Later, YSK’s website was also shut down as outcry by opposition parties on manipulation of results has increased. Turkey’s main opposition Republican People Party (CHP) has demanded for a recount on the disputed 2,5 million votes amid serious and widespread allegations of election fraud. Party’s deputy chairman Erdal Aksünger said that CHP will demand a recount of up to 40 percent of votes cast in the referendum.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has also issued a statement on Twitter, saying they would oppose two thirds of the polls whether the results are “yes” or “no.” According to data gathered by them there was 3 to 4 percent manipulation, the party said in its statement. Numerous election frauds, including post-voting stamping of fake ballots, and anti-democratic incidents have been reported across Turkey.
Following a last-minute decision by the YSK to accept ballots that do not carry an official stamp for authentication, videos shared on social media after the voting ended showed men casting multiple “yes” votes on unauthenticated ballots as well on as stamped ballots in two separate incidents. Both incidents took place in the Sincan district of Ankara amid growing concerns of voter fraud in Turkey’s historic referendum that will switch the country’s system of governance to an executive presidency. In one video, a woman is heard warning men about the illegality of their actions; yet, the men continued to stamp the previously unauthenticated ballots.
An exchange of gunfire occurred between two groups due to differing political views at a polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, killing three people. The clash occurred in the Yabanardı Village of Diyarbakır’s Çermik district in a schoolyard, which is used as a polling station on Sunday.
Yabanardı village chief’s son Mehmet Yıldız opened fire after disagreeing with the political views in a discussion. Abdülrezzak Yıldız and Şeyhmus Yıldız succumbed to their heavy injuries on the way to the Siverek State Hospital. İdris Yıldız, who was also wounded, was killed in the same hospital during his treatment. The sons of the village chief, Mehmet and Tahir Yıldız, were detained following the incident.
Also, a former columnist of staunchly pro-Erdoğan Islamist daily Yeni Şafak was attacked by an Erdoğanist group of 30 people after he declared that he will cast “no” vote in the referendum. Columnist Ali Bayramoğlu was attacked after he cast his vote in İstanbul.
Bayramoğlu, who was a staunch supporter of the ruling AKP’s and Erdoğan’s anti-democratic, unlawful and oppressive policies until very recent days, had recently announced his support for “No” vote in the referendum. He has reportedly gone to the police headquarters to complain about the incident.
Meanwhile, two teachers who were earlier dismissed from their posts as part of a post-coup witch hunt targeting the Gülen movement, were taken into custody on Sunday at a school in Malatya where they stopped to cast their votes. Malatya police detained A.A. and T.D. over alleged links to the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of masterminding a July 15, 2016 coup attempt. The movement strongly denies the accusation.
E.O. a former partner of a private school that was closed down by the government after July 15, 2016 was also taken into custody in Trabzon’s Arsin district over similar charges.
Moreover, police detained F.G. in Malatya while four others in Adana over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) near the polling place.
In Viranşehir of Urfa, district head of the main opposition party CHP, Remzi Taylan, and his aide Mustafa Aslan, were beaten by a group of unidentified people at the polling site. The group members who first got into a verbal argument with Taylan and Aslan started a physical fight later, wounding both CHP members and causing to get treatment at a nearby hospital.
On the other hand, a video that went viral on social media shows a person voting multiple ‘yes’ votes on ballots in a school in Şanlıurfa province, reported by Turkish Minute. The ballots seem authentic as envelopes with official stamps are seen next to ballots. In another social media post, supporters of Erdoğan are seen handing out ballot boxes outside polling stations. No explanation has yet been made regarding the nature of the incident.
Despite bans against sharing the photo of ballots, Erdoğan supporters take photos of their ‘yes’ votes and share them on social media. Upon complaint, a police officer’s vote was considered invalid in İstanbul’s Sarıyer district. However, no action has been taken against Şamil Tayyar, an AKP deputy and a staunch Erdoğan supporter, who shared the photo of his vote on Twitter.
Several civil servants in Turkey have been under pressure to prove that they voted ‘yes’ in order to avoid purge.
A village headman A.İ. is reported to have collected the IDs of his relatives and many other civilians and voted on their behalf in Alakamış village in Şırnak’s İdil district. A woman living in the village and refusing to give her name due to security concerns stated that the village headman and village guards threaten many families at the polls so that they vote ‘Yes.’
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party’s (HDP) Assembly member Semra Uzunok was detained at a school she cast her vote in Karaağaç village in İzmir’s Buca district and taken to Bayraklı Court House.
Muş Provincial Director of National Education Metin İlci, reportedly pressurized school principles via text messages to make them vote ‘Yes’.
Vehicles without license plates appeared during this election as well. A vehicle without a license plate was spotted in the garden of Bey-koop Ali Cebi Middle School in Esenyurt, İstanbul but police refused to intervene the car.
Also, a footage went viral on social media showing Syrian citizens, who do not know Turkish, cast votes.
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.”
The international observers monitoring the constitutional referendum in Turkey will present their preliminary post-referendum statement at a news conference on Monday, 17 April, 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.
April 16, 2017