Jun 26 2018

Election results tallied by leading opposition misled presidential candidate, supporters

Following fiery debates over the legitimacy of the close result of Turkey’s April 2017 constitutional referendum, opposition parties ran an effective campaign to ensure the security of the ballot in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

To avoid a contested outcome similar to that of the referendum, which saw the Higher Electoral Council (YSK) make a last-minute decision to accept unstamped votes, the secular People's Republican Party (CHP) and other opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan devoted major resources to electoral and ballot monitoring.

Opposition parties, unions and non-governmental organisations formed the Fair Election Platform, an electoral watchdog. In addition to this, volunteers from political parties also went to the polls to ensure that no electoral fraud took place. This sent a clear message that the electorate should not worry as their votes were safe.

On several occasions, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu spoke about how he wanted the electorate to go to the polls without worrying whether their votes would be tampered with.

But these plans and systems, run by volunteer IT specialists at CHP headquarters, turned into a disaster.

Erdal Aksünger, who was responsible for information and communication technology and who came from the newly formed Central Executive Board, was removed from his post. He was replaced by Onursal Adıgüzel, a young member of parliament and of one of Kılıçdaroğlu’s new favourites. Tuncay Özkan was vice president of media and communications. Mehmet Ali Çelebi, a CHP member of parliament, was put in charge of overseeing ballot box security.

As his first job, Adıgüzel changed and redesigned the CHP's official website 20 days before the elections. This meant the website could not be accessed for days, aside from Kılıçdaroğlu's speeches, during the middle of the campaign, just when it had picked up momentum.

The CHP’s presidential candidate Muharrem Ince immediately launched his own website complete with live messages, videos, and social media sharing. His digital team was dubbed the "10th Floor" and was composed of 12 young volunteers who are digital/social media specialists and experts in online communications. The team’s social media campaign broke records with millions of shares and views, bringing Ince to the forefront of social media in Turkey.

The results of the election began to come in at 6.45 pm on Sunday when the YSK lifted the broadcasting ban. State-owned Anadolu news agency reported that Erdoğan had about 60 percent of the vote and broadcast more updates. Meanwhile, the Fair Election Platform froze. At 10 pm, it was still displaying the following message: "We will begin publishing data as soon as the broadcast ban is lifted."

Because entering the data was slow and results took hours to publish, CHP spokesmen repeatedly told supporters not to rely on Anadolu’s results, saying they were being manipulated and that the YSK had not opened as many of the ballot boxes as the state news agency said it had. CHP spokesman also said that, despite Anadolu saying that Erdoğan had got more than 50 percent of the vote, their tallies showed Erdoğan with 46 percent and Ince had around 40 percent.

In all his statements made in front of CHP headquarters, Tezcan raised the expectations that Erdoğan would not get more than the 50 percent of the vote he needed to avoid a second-round run-off election two weeks later.  

In the meantime, the hotline that Çelebi had been promoting for voters to report abuses of ballot box security did not work. It stopped working the moment the voting started. Anyone who sent a message or wanted to call the line was greeted with the message: "We cannot accept messages at this time." Anyone who wanted to pass on any complaints or information about how the ballot boxes were handled could not find any contacts for the CHP team.

After a few hours, the Fair Election Platform's website began broadcasting results, but they were very similar to those put out by Anadolu.

Ince and his team remained silent as they thought the presidential election would go onto a second round due to the information provided by the Fair Election Platform and the CHP's voting tallies. Because of this, Tezcan, Adıgüzel, Ince, and his team were misled and continued to tell supporters, even as late as midnight, not to be “fooled by manipulation".

Supporters in front of CHP headquarters began to get restless as Kılıçdaroğlu was nowhere in sight. Tezcan and others wanted to avoid the possibility of the crowd calling for Kılıçdaroğlu's resignation.

In fact, Tezcan appeared in front of the cameras with Özkan and Adıgüzel later in the night and said, based on the results he had, the elections would go to a second round. Upon hearing this, those gathered outside began to show signs of enthusiasm again.

But in the end, the results from both the Fair Election Platform and Anadolu both showed that Erdoğan won a resounding victory. Tezcan and his team sent a thank-you message to say the election was over and that it had passed the democracy test. He ended by saying: "Don't wait in vain. Go home and go to sleep. We lost this election."