Turkey held local elections on March 30, 2014, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) once again came out on top, although with only a plurality rather than a majority. That may not matter for Erdoğan: Any election victory gives him the right to act as a dictator and issue decrees irrespective of law, but the fall in total votes has left him with a little less wind in his sails.
It’s taken a little while for Turkey to give the official, certified declaration of results. Now that these are in hand, a long-time Turkish correspondent whom I trust—who, because of the atmosphere of retaliation and repression in Turkey has asked to remain anonymous—has raised questions, about whether AKP interference in the election and, in some cases, outright fraud might have swayed the outcome. With his permission, I quote extensively from his email, although I have edited lightly for grammar and style:
The High Election Council officially declared final election results, including calls for new polls in a few places. But doubts are lingering in the minds of many members of the opposition camp as well as objective observers as to the validity of certain results and the fairness of the whole election process. Although allegations of irregularities have not been uncommon in previous Turkish elections, this election has produced by far the largest number of questionable incidents and outright falsifications.
First though let us look at the official results and see whose victory it is: The AKP received 45 percent in mayoral and 43 percent in municipal and provincial council votes, against the [secular, center-left] Republican People Party’s [CHP’s] 28 percent and [nationalist, secular] National Movement Party’s [MHP’s] 16 percent.
Only a month before the December 17 revelations of corruption and bribery, AKP spokesmen were claiming that they were still at or above the 50 percent mark. And before the Gezi Park demonstrations in early June 2013, they were claiming 53-55 percent in various opinion polls. If you call a 10 percent drop in ten months a victory, then it was a victory.
The CHP was expected to do much better than the slight increase in their votes suggested. The expected voter bump from the Gülen camp did not materialize. Internal party disputes which have always been a chronic problem, again undercut the vote in the absence of a strong leadership. The MHP also showed a slight increase, gaining a small amount of votes coming from previous AKP and CHP voters, but for different reasons…
The whole election did not take place on a level playing field. The entire government apparatus worked for AKP. Billboards controlled by the municipalities were granted to the AKP for election purposes, or else paid for by pro-AKP businessmen. The opposition, however, was charged full price. You could easily sense the money spent by the various political camps, just walking in the streets. A billboard message CHP wanted to put up was not allowed because it declared “governments should be accountable to people”. Supposedly, it implied accusation of improper actions on the part of the government.
The state controlled radio and television company TRT is by law mandated to be impartial to all political parties… By official statistics, they allotted almost 90 percent of air time to AKP, five percent to the CHP and four percent to the MHP…
The helicopters, airplanes, and buses used by Erdoğan and his ministers to support the AKP campaign were paid out of Turkey’s national budget. The local officials distributed cash gifts to the poor (not a bad idea but) in exchange for AKP votes.
Much of the supposedly neutral media was, because of threats, exercising self-censorship, and Erdoğan’s associates and even Erdoğan himself sometimes directly intervened, sometimes during live programming. Erdoğan admitted interfering in the “Alo Fatih” incident because he said a certain program was not being fair to him and so he called the manager to intervene.
Back to the elections: the CHP and media reported many, many incidents of irregularities, including 267 in Ankara alone, where the AKP candidate won by less than one percent, equal to 30,000 votes. Meanwhile, 125,000 votes were invalidated for one reason or another. CHP demands for a recount were rejected. A recount could have validated many of the invalid votes and swung that election.
In Ankara and other places, many results sheets from ballot boxes showed numbers which could not logically be correct, like the CHP receiving zero votes and some obscure party (one of 30 or so taking place in the election) receiving half of the votes. Apparently, CHP votes were recorded one line below or above the CHP designation on the sheet, intentionally or inadvertently… Again CHP demands for a recount were rejected. Officially signed results sheet was accepted as correct. In many other ballot boxes, the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters at that polling site. Either the votes were miscounted or the box was stuffed. Again officials ignored objections and accepted the results.
In one case, the official “EVET” (yes) stamp to be used by the voters, was stolen two days before the election, along with a number of empty vote sheets. So the local election board ordered and received a new stamp. This time it was a “TERCIH” (accept) stamp. What would normally be expected was that all votes cast at that box would carry the “TERCIH” stamp. But many had the “EVET” stamp and were accepted as valid. This is an obvious case of ballot box stuffing…
In a few places in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, burned ballots were found in garbage dumps the day after elections. In one case, bags of validated votes were found in a school yard in Ankara. The citizens in the neighborhood wanted to go into the school building to search for other bags. They were prevented by the school principal who called the police and removed the residents.
During election night, there were power outages in at least 44 places in Turkey, which is quite out of the ordinary. In at least one place, someone who snatched the ballot box in the dark and tried to run away was caught. In most other places, the vote count was interrupted with votes scattered on a table. The minister of energy explained the reason in one location, a cat had entered a power station and caused a short circuit. In other places there were “strong winds.”
District and provincial election boards denied most of the requests and demands for a recount or for investigations of irregularities or for new polls. All such demands were rejected by the High Election Council. In contrast, the boards accepted almost all requests filed by the AKP. In Ağrı province, the [Kurdish] Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] won by a few votes. There were subsequently 14 recounts, each showing the same result or the BDP increasing its margin. Yet at AKP request, the High Election Council called a new election on June 1, 2014.
In the province of Yalova, meanwhile, initial results showed the AKP won by one vote. A recount then put the CHP ahead by six votes. More recounts replicated the CHP lead. Yet again, the High Election Council decided for a new election on June 1. Before that decision, Erdoğan had said “God willing, the High Election Council will decide to hold new elections in Yalova.” God may not have obliged, but the High Election Council did…
When the Ankara results were announced by the Ankara Provincial Election Board, the chairman of the board organized a small ceremony where he handed the official election document to incumbent mayor Melih Gökçek. Normally, the chairman of the board is a neutral official, but he praised Gökçek so much during the ceremony that you would think he was an emcee during an AKP celebration…
Iranian President Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Iraqi Kurdish strongman Masud Barzani all congratulated Erdoğan on his election. That is no surprise, because Erdoğan held an election that mirrored their own. Obama, to his credit, has withheld his normal effusive praise. Let us hope normal State Department protocol doesn’t get the best of him, because there is something quite rotten in Ankara.