Turkey’s free and unfair election

Last Sunday’s result astonished us all, even though it was what the people of Turkey voted for. That doesn’t mean it was fair.

Last Sunday’s result astonished us all, even though it was what the people of Turkey voted for. That doesn’t mean it was fair.

It wouldn’t be a Turkish election without some allegations of fraud. This election, as with those before it, was littered with reports of unmarked cars outside polling stations, pre-stamped ballots and voters who were mysteriously told they had already voted.

When the results came, they came very quickly – suspiciously fast, some said. And the Supreme Electoral Commission’s (YSK) activities appeared to be as opaque as ever: unlike the June election, they did no publish provisional results, keeping us all in the dark until the official results were announced today.

To top that, Erik Meyersson has produced a fascinating analysis on digit tests – the mathematical measure of election irregularities based on the theory that, in a vote count, one particular digit should be randomly distributed. His analysis is worth reading in full here.

Add to this pollsters’ shoddy performance: all bar none got it wrong. Yes, even our humble rolling average. Surely all this points to a foul-smelling election result?

It does, but not in the way critics would think.

This was Turkey’s free and unfair election. Free, because voters had a wide and varying choice and the result was, by and large, the result that the people of Turkey cast at the ballot box. But unfair, because a plethora of undemocratic factors make Turkish elections an unfair playing ground.

The arguments are well rehearsed: Turkey’s journalists are not free, it’s judges not independent, its opposition parties ineffective. The election also suffered from the tensest security situation in the southeast for two decades.

An election of fear

Election observers from the OSCE said the election “offered voters a variety of choices” but was hindered by the security environment, violence and media restrictions. In listening influences on voters, they used another word: “fear”.

One leader in the delegation pretty much hit the nail on the head when she said: “The violence in the largely Kurdish southeast of the country had a significant impact on the elections, and the recent attacks and arrests of members and activists, predominantly from the HDP, are of concern, as they hindered their ability to campaign.”

The irony of this result is that few would have been dissatisfied with it if it had come in June. Both the AK Party, who would have secured a fourth straight term in government, and the HDP, safely over the 10% threshold, would have had plenty to be cheerful about.

Even the CHP and MHP could have pointed to retaining their core voter base in an election where they were sorely tempted elsewhere.

So where now?

After a tumultuous 22 months of elections that began with the start of the local election campaign in February 2014, Turkey is now set for a period of relative political stability. No elections are scheduled until local councils are due to be renewed March 2019.

The AK Party majority means it has a mandate to at least propose an executive presidency. Earlier in the year the talk had been about installing a French-style system of government – but chatter in the press has been about as-yet undefined “half-presidency” models. If a deal is struck with one or more opposition parties, Turkey’s voters could be heading to the polls again to endorse it in a referendum.

1 November was a failure for all three opposition parties, but it should surprise no-one that Turkey’s most transparent party, the CHP – at least relative to the others – is also the party that is talking about a leadership challenge most openly. The party’s biennial congress was scheduled to take place next month, but this was bumped back to January because of the general election.

But several candidates have now emerged to oppose Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the current leader, and an earlier event to see off that challenge is not out of the question.

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