Upcoming Turkish elections could face unprecedented fraud

A suspicious series of events over the past week has ratcheted up security concerns ahead of the June 7 general elections in Turkey. First, an unexplained electricity cut across the country on April 1 led Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to speculate about a terrorist attack. Few hours after that statement, a state prosecutor was taken hostage by two terrorists at the Istanbul main courthouse. The hostage and the hostage takers did not survive the rescue operation. And this nightmarish week ended by Turkish soccer team Fenerbahce surviving an assassination attempt April 4.

No one but the 13 year long Justice and Development Party (A.K.P.) government should have been expected in the least to take some responsibility. But they are the masters of blaming others and presenting themselves as the victims at all times. They acted no different this time around, too. The A.K.P. government alleges that its main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (C.H.P.), is affiliated with the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party (DHKP – C), extremist leftist terror group that claimed responsibility for taking the state prosecutor hostage. There certainly is no evidence for such preposterous accusations, but the A.K.P. never cared for the facts. Just as there was no rational ground for the government to blame the opposition for backing the murderous Syrian regime.

The A.K.P. government has always been keen depicting any dissenting voice as if it is an act of terrorism aiming to bring down an elected government. By keeping such irrational and unfounded accusations in the public domain with loud voice, A.K.P. achieves to cloud domestically how the international community scrutinizes the impact of its Syria policy – to begin with – especially ahead of the elections.

In September 2014, for example, Francis Ricciardone, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, made headlines saying Turkey “worked with groups for a period, including al-Nusra,” which is also on the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list. Thanks to the A.K.P. government’s policies toward Syria and the broader Middle East that Turkey appears as the only NATO member country on the Financial Action Task Force gray list under suspicion of supporting the financing of terror organizations.

The A.K.P. dominance domestically creates such cacophony that it is either the A.K.P.’s way or no way. Since coming to power, A.K.P. has focused far more on what separates people than on what unites them. This is hardly a new or original tactic; but given Turkey’s volatile neighborhood and the position in world affairs that Turkey strives to occupy, a polarized citizenry threatens the nation both from without and within. When that is coupled with people’s growing distrust to the court system, the trouble for this country feels even heavier.

Turkey plays a key role in keeping the lid on the radical Islamic terror and preventing its spoiler effects terrorizing the whole Eurasia region. That is why the West also has a lot at stake in the next general election that will signal either a continuum of these troubled Middle East policies or a change for the better. It will also signal a cardinal turning point about the common interests and values with the West.

Yet what remains constant is the continual buzz of rhetoric preaching distrust of the opposition. The opposition, however, is only responsible for falling short of proving itself as a real political power hub. It is not the opposition that oppresses the media and freedom of expression. In the last example of such, Davutoglu slammed those media organizations showing the picture of the slain prosecutor with a gun pointed at his forehead, and an Istanbul court banned access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on April 6. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused April 8 all those showing that picture as “partnering the murder” of this prosecutor. These irrational emotional politicking sends a chilling effect and make journalists with different points of view worry for their safety.

Looking toward June, A.K.P. is expected to eke out a weak win, still being able to form a single party government, but ending fewer deputies to Parliament than at any other time in the last decade. Erdogan however wants lawmakers’ maximum support to change the constitution and convert the current parliamentary system into a presidential one. It means for Turkey – first and foremost – the end of checks and balances.

Turkey’s state institutions are already in disarray, and the populace is dangerously divided. During the May 2013 Gezi Park protests, Turks signed up in record numbers to Twitter to assure the free flow of information, and chronicle the disproportionate use of force by the police. The government had framed all those on the streets as “terrorists.”

These protests however increased awareness, especially among younger voters, and impressed upon them the need to stand up for their democracy. The demonstrations sparked a grassroots movement to monitor and ensure fair elections and accurate vote counts, championed by civilian initiatives such as Votes of Turkey (Turkiye’nin Oylari) and Votes of Ankara (Ankara’nin Oylari). These groups established a network of more than 100,000 volunteers in advance of the 2014, in which Turks voted for their local governments and their president for the first time. They served as observers to protect the sanctity of the voting process – and while their ambition stands as a testament to democracy, their work also uncovered fraud at the ballot box.

These citizen action groups demonstrate that even though Turkish democracy has always been far from perfect – the principles of democracy are at last permeating Turkish society. But the A.K.P.’s sustained approach exaggerating the exaggerated past problems aiming to show themselves as the victim at all times undermines such efforts and serves only to weaken the public’s belief in elections. And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is so full of it that he belittles democracy to mean the ballot box.

Election fraud has always existed here, but no one ever seriously believed that it impacted the results until the March 2014 local elections here. These civilian groups proved that the local election in Ankara was stolen and the justice system failed under political pressure to properly act. Now C.H.P. Ankara mayoral candidate Mansur Yavas has taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights to settle the score.

With this precedent at hand, people already expect an unprecedented level of fraud to take place at the June ballot box. Erdogan likes to talk about democracy, and rallies people to vote in record numbers for the A.K.P. to change the country’s regime. He argues an elected public servant cannot turn to become a dictator. Yet history tells us this is simply an empty argument.

If he were to be sincere prioritizing people’s representation in their governance, Erdogan should have changed the law for lowering the 10 percent threshold currently required for a party to be represented in Parliament. That rule was presented into law by the 1982 military coup constitution. Today, it stays effective as a prime example that once a party wins, the odds of sharing its power become slim to none. Concerned citizens of Turkey simply sends an early warning that the West will be best served by joining forces with civilian organizations and election observers to ensure fair elections that have the capacity to keep Turkey on the democratic track.

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