This article was published in Arab News on April 14, 2019.
Turkey’s local elections are rapidly turning into a farce
Local elections were held throughout Turkey on March 31, but Turkey’s major political parties have focused mainly on the results in Istanbul.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claims that it has emerged as the overall winner nationwide. It is true that an alliance of the ruling party with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won more than half of the votes in Turkey, but this does not necessarily mean that the AKP+MHP will have a majority in all metropolitan municipal councils, because each district contributes one fifth of its municipal council members to the metropolitan council. Larger districts, of course, have a higher number of seats in their respective councils, and therefore send more members to the metropolitan council. And the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) came out on top in most of these bigger districts.
The unconfirmed results available so far indicate that the CHP is leading in the Istanbul elections. But the AKP is doing everything in its power to reverse that trend.
On March 31, as the results first started to come in, the AKP candidate Binali Yıldırım had a considerable lead. A few hours later, however, the gap between him and his major contender — CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu — started to narrow. Towards midnight, when 98.8 percent of the Istanbul votes had been counted, the broadcasting of Istanbul’s results was interrupted. There was no explanation from the pro-government media, at the time, as to why this happened.
We are now at the beginning of the third week post-elections, and the count is, at best, becoming a farce — if not a travesty
By the second week after the elections, the recounting of invalid votes had become the primary issue. This delayed the counting of valid votes for more than 14 days after the polls. The Higher Electoral Board (HEB) ignored the CHP’s proposal of setting up additional teams to speed up the count. We are now at the beginning of the third week post-elections, and the count is, at best, becoming a farce — if not a travesty.
The AKP has filed new claims of irregularities in one of Istanbul’s districts, Büyükçekmece, with the HEB. It claims that non-existent houses in empty plots were included in the list of voters’ addresses, and that these ‘virtual voters’ caused an unusual increase in the district’s electorate. Since citizens are not allowed to vote without showing their identity card, it will not be easy for the AKP to prove its case. Furthermore, such a problem — if it truly exists — should have been sorted out during the verification period before the elections, not after it turned out that the ruling party was losing in that district.
Another problem arose when certain mayors who won their respective local elections were barred from resuming their posts on the grounds that they had been expelled from public service beforehand by a presidential decree. Therefore, the posts were filled by the candidate who got the second-highest number of votes. Once again, this problem should never have arisen after the elections, because the HEB should have prevented that person from standing in the first place.
Another deviation from past practice was the admissibility of the request for a recount. In 2014, Mansur Yavas, who was contending the post of mayor of Ankara, submitted a request for a recount to the HEB. That request was rejected on the grounds that the claimant had to include in his demand factual evidence that his request was warranted. In the present elections, however, a request from the ruling party for a recount in a constituency was granted without any demand for evidence of misconduct or mistakes.
Despite its maneuvering, the AKP seems to be cornered. The CHP says that it has in its archives the original texts of the records signed by observers from all political parties for every single ballot box in Istanbul, which, the CHP says, show that its candidate Imamoglu is leading by around 14,000 votes — an advantage that seems unlikely to be overturned even if all votes are recounted.
The AKP is unsure whether it should demand a new election from scratch either in Istanbul or nationwide. It fears the CHP may emerge even stronger if a new vote were to take place.
There are conspiracy theories saying that the AKP may be trying to gain time before handing over the Istanbul metropolitan municipality to the CHP in order to empty the municipal coffers and disburse funds to the private corporations currently doing business with the municipality.
There are also frequent reports alleging that the AKP is trying to keep the HEB distracted with numerous recounts so that it can destroy incriminating documents.
Whatever the truth, Turkey and its people deserve better than this dark comedy.