Feb 23 2018

Turkey to allow unstamped ballots, raising fraud concern

Turkey will allow unstamped ballot slips to be counted as valid in future elections, reigniting concern about electoral fraud.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, armed with extensive new powers after a referendum last year in which such ballot slips were allowed to be counted in a last-minute ruling, said the security services would also be permitted to police polling stations and the High Election Board (YSK) given powers to merge election districts or move ballot boxes.

Turkish opposition lawmakers said the measures could be used to influence the result of presidential, parliamentary and local elections, particularly in the southeast of the country, where Kurdish parties have widespread support, according to Reuters.

“The proposal has many regulations that remove the open, fair, transparent and democratic tenets of elections,” said Filiz Kerestecioglu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Reuters reported.

Erdoğan’s government says the pro-Kurdish opposition are an arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and says it benefits from voter intimidation. The HDP rejects the claim, accusing the government of undemocratic practices.

Baris Yarkadas, a parliamentarian of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the presence of security forces at polling stations could make voting less transparent, according to Reuters.

The CHP accused the government of using hundreds of thousands of unstamped ballot papers to alter the result of last year’s referendum, which was held under emergency rule following an unsuccessful coup attempt in July 2016.

OSCE observers and the European Union have also expressed concern about the increasing unfairness of Turkish polls, pointing in particular to the erosion of press freedoms, which gives the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a big advantage in media coverage during campaigning.

The government has also rounded up scores of Kurdish politicians on terrorism charges, including HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş and several of the parties MPs, arresting and incarcerating them.

Erdoğan had lost his parliamentary majority at an election in 2015 after the HDP passed the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament. The election was re-run later that year, restoring the AKP’s majority, after Erdoğan ordered a renewed crackdown on the Kurds.

The Turkish president announced the measures alongside new rules allowing election alliances, which are set to benefit his AKP at the polls as it seeks to keep its legislative majority. Some recent polls suggest that the party will fall short of the votes required to form a government because of the popularity of the HDP and the new Good Party.