PRESS RELEASE 31 March 2014
We have observed the elections in Istanbul and would like to put on record our concerns about reports of numerous abuses and irregularities that were reported to us on election day at various polling stations.
How the HDP did in the elections
In Istanbul where we were observing the election, the BDP was standing as part of the HDP, an alliance of progressive social movements and individuals who had united to form the new party in October last year. The candidates for the Beyoglu district of Istanbul were an architect who had been leading opposition to urban redevelopment and the sister of a victim of the Roboski massacre.
We demonstrated solidarity with the HDP by joining a team of party members distributing leaflets in the street in the busy shopping district near Taksim.
Evaluating the results we were told by a party spokesperson that its performance was not so good, although as a new party its expectations were not so high.
As a new party it faced organisational challenges. It also had financial difficulties.
The HDP will need to develop its political campaigning to address the concerns of the people and attract more support.
However the attitude of the party remains positive and its next challenge will be the election for the presidency in August.
The Istanbul candidate for mayor was strong but had to work for the peace process as a film director which had led to his absence from Istanbul, which may have been a factor in the level of support.
The HDP got same level of vote as the BDP in 2009 but has still to widen its electoral base.
Six BDP Members of Parliament had recently joined the HDP.
We were informed that the HDP was a culmination of the political project developed by Abdullah Ocalan of building alliances for the democratic transformation of Turkey. The party had adopted a progressive social agenda including civil rights for minorities in education, healthcare and employment. It had campaigned on the issue of peace as a necessary prerequisite for democratisation.
Polling station visit
We were privileged to have been granted access to a polling station in central Istanbul which allowed us to witness for ourselves the people going in to record their votes in the ballot boxes.
Votes are recorded by stamping the chosen candidate then placing the ballot in a sealed envelope. After a few moments we were obliged to leave after an official from one of the rival parties objected.
During the polling day itself accusations emerged of people seeing ballot boxes in polling stations already with ballot papers before the doors opened for people to vote.
There were further allegations that ballot papers had already been stamped before being handed out.
Earlier it was reported in the Turkish media that 180 million ballot papers had been printed for an electorate numbering 52 million. No explanation for this was made nor was any denial given by the electoral commission for this alleged anomaly. If true, it is at best highly suspicious why so many extra ballot papers would be thought to be needed.
Irregularities during the vote counting have been reported with power cuts in numerous
cities taking place as the votes were in the process of being counted.
Fears of manipulation and fraud surfaced following power blackouts that occurred across Turkey during election night as votes were being counted.
In response to allegations made by opposition parties, the country’s Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız denied any wrongdoing. Yıldız spoke in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri after the voting was completed, saying: “In the eastern Mediterranean cities of Mersin, Adana and Gaziantep, there was a storm with winds reaching 75 km/h. In addition, there was heavy snow in eastern Anatolian cities like Erzurum and Ardahan. These weather conditions caused some local power outages which didn’t affect the vote counting.”
However the minister failed to address complaints about power outages in western cities such as Istanbul and Eskişehir, where the weather conditions were mild and caused no problems. We were staying in the centre of Istanbul and witnessed no adverse weather conditions at all.
Earlier, we had been told by a representative of the IHD in Istanbul that power cuts were a frequent occurrence during elections in Turkey, the clear implication being that it provided an opportunity to tamper with the votes.
As the polls closed, PM Erdogan issued a threat to his opponents after claiming victory in the elections, stating that his “enemies would pay a heavy price” for plotting against him. We were informed that this threat was aimed specifically at supporters of the Gulen movement and did not directly target Kurdish organisations. Nevertheless, such use of threats sound ominous and could indicate the start of a new wider clampdown on opposition political forces if tensions are exacerbated further.
However, Erdogan’s poll victory could also be taken as an endorsement of the peace process and provide the AKP with the authority to pursue it with a renewed sense of urgency. Opposition CHP and MHP had opposed the peace process with the Kurds.
On a clear positive note, three women were elected as mayors for the first time including the BDP’s Gultan Kisanak in Diyarbakir, who succeeds Osman Baydemir. The Kurdish movement is well known for its encouragement of women’s participation and this has been promoted by Abdullah Ocalan over many years. It is clearly having a great impact on the empowerment of Kurdish women at all levels.
As we were informed during our discussions the BDP and sister party People’s Democracy Party (HDP) have been making serious efforts to give representation to women and nominate them at rates of 55.3 percent and 72.8 respectively.
However, the traditional parties have so far failed to address the issue of women’s under representation in Turkish politics, with only 1.15 percent of AKP mayoral and local assembly member candidates being female, while the rate was barely much better for other parties too – 4.32 percent for the CHP and 2.51 MHP, according to Turkish Daily News.
During the visit we met officials from the HDP, human rights association (IHD), two of the Ocalan legal team released from prison 10 days earlier, journalists from Ozgur Gundem, and members of teachers’ union EGITIM SEN.
Father Joe Ryan
For further information please contact:
David Morgan, journalist and historian
Father Joe Ryan, Chair of the Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission