Jun 29 2018

Turkey not a dictatorship – Council of Europe election observer

Turkey’s elections last weekend suffered from a high police presence and unfair media representation in the run-up, but the country is no dictatorship and should not be compared to countries like Russia or Azerbaijan, Estonian Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly representative Marianne Mikko told Deutsche Welle.

Critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have accused them of leading the country towards one-man rule under the new executive presidential system.

Mikko was in Turkey on the day of the presidential and parliamentary elections as part of the assembly’s committee sent to observe the elections, and reported that the group’s mission went well with the cooperation of Turkish government officials.

“They were good elections. They showed that the Turkish people take an interest in how their country is governed. The 88 percent turnout was a very high rate; it is not easy to see such a high turnout in Europe or around the world. This deserves applause,” she said.

Mikko was present at a ballot box in Diyarbakır, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, where she reported an “extremely high” police presence.

“This is a subject that needs to be considered,” she said, adding that the state of emergency, ongoing since July 2016, that the elections were held under were another cause for concern.

The opposition was also poorly represented on Turkish media, said Mikko, referring specifically to the amount of screen time they were allowed on Turkey’s stae broadcaster TRT.

The Turkish government’s near total control of public and private media outlets has been widely reported by international press and non-governmental organisations, with the lack of press freedom a significant factor leading Freedom House to downgrade Turkey’s status to “not free” in its 2018 report.

Despite these problems, Mikko remained positive about the elections, noting the “noteworthy proportion” of Turks who believe in democracy.

“This is a very good thing, it gives hope. I don’t subscribe to the view that Turkey is a dictatorship. It has elements of an authoritarian regime, true. But not a dictatorship, on that I am clear,” she said.

The Council of Europe will wait for the report on Turkey from the Venice Commission, expected in September or October this year, before releasing its own report on the Turkish elections, said Mikko.

It will monitor Turkey’s transition to the new executive presidential system, with particular attention to the efficacy of parliament, some of the powers of which have been transferred to the president.