Jun 28 2018

Turkey’s elections were neither free, nor fair, two experts say

Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair, two experts on the country said, due to the state of emergency, political violence, and the imprisonment of an opposition candidate.

“Personally, I’ve been a little surprised at some of the search for silver linings in the conduct of the election,” Nate Schenkkan, a project director at the Freedom House democracy watchdog, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington on Wednesday.

Sinan Ciddi, a professor at Georgetown University, said Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council had been compromised under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Erdoğan, in power for 15 years, was re-elected as president on Sunday with more than 50 percent of the vote, while his Islamist party and its far-right allies also won a majority in parliament.

“I personally don’t recognise the legitimate outcome of this election,” Ciddi said adding that "I would challenge the legitimacy of the outcome of this process we saw on Sunday". Ciddi said the ultimate loser of the elections is Turkey and "what we have seen should shock us but not suprise us."

Erdoğan’s victory will see him take over a new presidential system that concentrates power in his office. Even if Erdoğan carries out a campaign promise to end the state of emergency, he will retain sweeping power through the new constitution, Ciddi said.

“We have a super executive presidency, a hyper-presidential, hyper-personalised system,” said Schenkkan.

Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford said Turkey was a NATO ally that “we don’t recognise anymore”. He said Turkey’s imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson for more than 20 months was a “hostage-taking” meant to sway Washington to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Turkish preacher and former Erdoğan ally that Turkey accuses of ordering a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Lankford also criticised Turkey for acquiring S-400 air defence missiles from Russia while simultaneously buying F-35 advanced fighter jets from the United States. He said he opposed delivery of the F-35s to Turkey, now about a year away.

“They have very complicated issues and we acknowledge that,” Lankford said. “The threats to terrorism to them are on their border all the time everyday. We understand that completely and want to be able to partner with Turkey, to be able to resolve that for their national security and for our national security and the stability of the region.”

Gonul Tol, director at the Middle East Institute, predicted more aggression against Kurdish rebels in Turkey and Syria. She said that if Erdoğan’s alliance with his far-right junior coalition partners were to last, it would delay hopes for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue.

Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Turkish former member of parliament for the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the party may be hoping to build momentum for local elections in 2019. Muharrem Ince, the CHP’s presidential nominee, won 31 percent of the vote and conceded the race, despite saying there was a likelihood of some irregularities at the polls. His swift acceptance drew praise from some pro-government commentators. Erdemir suggested Ince was thinking ahead.

“He thought, ‘Do I fight this battle now, which we are sure to lose? Or do I retain some of this momentum and credibility for the upcoming March 2019 elections?’,” Erdemir said.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.