A change of direction for Turkey?

PEACE IN KURDISTAN CAMPAIGN, 16 June 2011

The significant victory of the independent candidates despite government pressure is a declaration of the Kurdish peoples’ will for lasting peace and an end to its plight.

Undoubtedly there are two main winning parties of the recent Turkish elections held on 12th June 2011 – the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

As an independent UK delegation observing the Turkish elections we were divided into four groups to cover as much geography as possible. Throughout the area we managed to cover we noticed some disturbing and recurring problems regarding the elections in the South East of Turkey, which we believe resulted in the elections being unfair and lacking democratic safeguards. These disturbing features can broadly be described as:

1 – Illegality;
2 – A lack of women’s will being reflected;
3 – Abuse of the proxy vote system;
4 – Undue governmental/military influence and pressure;
5 – Institutional racism amongst the Turkish security forces against the Kurds.

The fact that the elections were a victory for the pro-Kurdish BDP supported independent candidates does not dilute the clear unfair footing on which the elections were fought.

We observed at first hand the presence of an unjustifiable number of military and other security officials at polling stations and within yards of ballot boxes, in clear breach of the 15-meter distance rule. The military and other security officials were all heavily armed and at most polling stations there were armoured vehicles creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. It was as if the country was going to war rather than conducting democratic elections. In this respect we could see no change from the aggressive behaviour of security officials in the previous 2007 general and 2009 local elections, in fact there was an increase in the security forces overshadowing the electorate. Just one night before elections we observed attempts to disrupt election proceedings in the Kurdish city of Bingol. A hall of residence where a number of election observers who would be monitoring the count on behalf of the independent candidates was raided by armed plain-clothes police in armoured vehicles. It was clear that this was a last minute bid to threaten the students and disturb the monitors.

This level of intimidation was supported by the AKP in many of the rural villages through bribery, fraud, and malpractices which international independent monitors observed at first hand. Elderly women were being instructed on how to vote by AKP party supporters stationed at the booth. At many of the polling stations there were no women voters at all and we were told that their husbands were voting for them by proxy. An independent candidate monitor was hospitalised after a stone was thrown at his head as he was attacked by a “chief” and his son for objecting to the use of a wife’s proxy vote. One BPD woman supporter told us “the women do not have a free vote. They must vote like their husbands or fathers”. She also criticised the way the AKP party manipulated women voters in the months before the election by gifting them free merchandise, foods, and white goods.

At one large city centre polling point with over two dozen ballot boxes, each in its own room and representing a voting district, police were seen to close the doors of many of the rooms so as to prevent observes from watching as the contents of the ballot were counted. The system of reading out the votes and then being marked down is open to abuse, particularly if there are not enough count monitors for one of the smaller parties or independent candidates.

Moreover the “chief” of the polling stations, who are state appointed officials, seemed to favour the establishment parties rather than the independent candidates. This had the clear effect of isolating the monitors for the independent candidates leaving them vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse.

BDP candidates were obliged to stand as independents because Turkey’s national 10% threshold for a political party means their votes will otherwise be disqualified.

Nevertheless there will now be 35 independent candidates supported by the BDP in parliament and if they can make the right alliances with other parties, there is hope that the AKP government’s policies (which seem designed to repress Kurdish aspirations to have a role in redrafting the constitution and enter into a dialogue towards a peaceful solution to the conflict) will be kept at bay.

As an independent delegation observing these elections we would hope that the significant victory of the independent candidates in spite of the level of government pressure and irregularities will be viewed as a declaration of the Kurdish peoples’ will for lasting peace and an end to their plight.

Ali Has – Lawyer, and spokesperson for Britain Peace Council.
Hugo Charlton – Barrister, Human Rights Activist.

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NOTES

* UK delegates: Margaret Owen, barrister, member of Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), sponsored by Britain Peace Council; Ali Has, lawyer and a spokesperson for Britain Peace Council; Hugo Charlton, criminal barrister, 1 Grays Inn; Zara Broughton, student film-maker; Jonathan Fryer, journalist, academic and Liberal International; Stephen Smellie, UNSION Scotland; Sherri Semsidini, human rights advisor at Trott and Gentry Solicitors; Omer Moore, human rights lawyer, Trott and Gentry Solicitors; Val Swain, activist, Fitwatch; Emily Apple, activist, Fitwatch, sponsored by UNITE, London North West Branch 9708; Mithat Ishakoglu PhD student Exeter University.

A full report from the delegates will be available at the beginning of July.

For information contact

Britain Peace Council – britainpeacecouncil@gmail.com

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign:
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish question
estella24@tiscali.co.uk
Estella Schmid – Tel: 020 7586 5892 – mobile 07846666804
Melanie Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 4131

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Alyn Smith MEP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, John Austin, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Mark Thomas, Bairbre de Brún MEP