The element of surprise in Turkey's election results - analyst

Claims by pro-government and opposition sources that Turkey’s June presidential and parliamentary elections were not free and far are supported by data on excess votes per ballot boxes, high levels of spoiled ballots, and noticeable differences in the amount of parliamentary and presidential ballots in the same box, wrote Rice University scholar Abdullah Aydoğan in an article he penned for the Washington Post.

Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) won another decisive victory in the June polls, amid cries of foul by opposition circles. The snap elections have ushered in a new executive presidential system which grants the president increased powers. 

Videos of ballot stuffing — mostly in eastern Turkey — in favor of pro-Erdogan parties went viral after they were posted online on election day, Aydoğan wrote, adding that both partisan and nonpartisan reports showed that allegations of electoral irregularity came primarily from eastern Turkey.

An opposition-written report supported this claim, stating that 68 percent of the election day violations took place in the east — areas where Erdogan’s AKP and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) experienced significant gains.

Election officials were allowed to vote in a different precinct if they were working away from their own on election day — and so analysts were not surprised to see some ballot boxes having more votes than their precinct had voters. But what drew attention is that 42 percent of 3,278 such boxes were located in the predominantly Kurdish east, with consistently pro-government results, although overall only 17 percent of the boxes were dedicated to the east, the author highlighted.

‘’These results become even more striking when we consider the following two points. First, a box with excess votes means a turnout rate at least 14 percent more compared with an average box, because the nationwide turnout was 86 percent. Second, before the election, numerous local governors in the east decided to move hundreds of ballot boxes — with 144,000 citizens registered to vote — from rural areas to district centers. Obviously, this decision had a potential to lower the overall turnout in the east. Hence, we should have expected even fewer boxes with excess votes in the east compared with the rest,’’ Aydoğan said.

Furthemore, 457 ballot boxes in the east where Erdogan received more than 99 percent of the valid votes, the percentage of invalid votes turned out to be a record low of 0.5 percent. More than half of these boxes were in the country’s Sanliurfa province, where the ballot-stuffing allegations were at their peak.

The author found out that 12 percent of the boxes in eastern Turkey have different numbers of each ballot type, whereas only 6 percent of the boxes in the rest of the country have such discrepancies, noting that it is likely individuals who committed ballot stuffing (allegedly mostly in the east) were not extremely careful in adding equal numbers of ballots.

Some election analysts argue that the unprecedented electoral gains of the nationalist parties in the east could be the result of an increase in Turkish security personnel appointed to Kurdish regions during the past few years, Aydoğan explained. Others say that the alliance between the ultranationalist MHP and local tribes may be the main factor.

What has been one of the most disappointing developments for Turkey’s electorate is the opposition parties’ inability to investigate the extent of electoral irregularities during this election.

This, in turn, could lead to substantive decline in turnout in the next elections, only further consolidate the AKP’s power, Aydoğan stressed.