Mar 05 2018

Opposition encourages regime change by monitoring elections – columnist

A columnist for the Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak has warned that efforts made by opposition parties to monitor the elections could be a strategy to encourage the illegal overthrow of the government.

The Oy ve Ötesi (Vote and Beyond) non-governmental organisation has recruited volunteers to observe elections in Turkey since 2014, after eight activists set the platform up in the wake of the nationwide Gezi Park environmental protests of 2013.

Yet for Mehmet Acet, a columnist for Yeni Şafak, the founding of the NGO was the first stage of a sinister ploy backed by Turkey’s two largest opposition parties – the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The two parties aim is to create a perception among the public that elections are being manipulated by the ruling party, and the results are therefore illegitimate, wrote Acet.

Oy ve Ötesi’s presence during the June 2015 general elections was the first step in this campaign, which Acet said the opposition parties again pursued during the April 2017 constitutional referendum on the switch to an executive presidential system, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) campaigned in favour of, winning with a small majority.

The Yeni Şafak columnist argues that though the elections have been fair, the opposition parties hope that by creating a perception of illigitimacy, they can instigate a “change in government by non-electoral means” in order to rid themselves of the ruling party.

The next major vote in Turkey is the presidential election, due before November 2019. Some commentators have speculated that the AKP will call the elections this year to benefit from the ongoing military operation in northwest Syria, which is widely supported in Turkey, and the relatively favourable current economic conditions.

The CHP and HDP have publicly stated they would contest the results of the 2017 referendum, after controversy around the decision by the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey to accept ballot papers without an official stamp on the day of the vote. The parties claim that as many as 1.5 million unstamped ballots were accepted as a result.

International observers have also questioned Turkey’s last two elections, with various European institutions criticising the lack of press freedom and campaigning restrictions placed on the opposition during the November 2015 snap general elections.

The 2017 constitutional referendum, which was held under a state of emergency, was slammed by observers for repression of “No” campaigners in the runup to the vote, and “serious irregularities” during voting. One academic specialising on Turkish elections, Eric Meyersson, said these were of a “different magnitude” to any he had witnessed before.