May 09 2018

Turkey must lift emergency rule for credible elections: UN

Turkey’s government must lift a state of emergency imposed on the country for snap elections in June to gain credibility, the United Nations said.

Voting cannot take place in an environment where democracy and human rights have been curtailed markedly, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is difficult to imagine how credible elections can be held in an environment where dissenting views and challenges to the ruling party are penalized so severely,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has presided over emergency rule since a failed coup in July 2016, issuing presidential decrees with the force of law. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested, including journalists and academics, on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism since the coup, which the government blames on a clandestine Islamic movement run by Fethullah Gulen.

Erdoğan extended emergency rule on April 19, a day after calling presidential and parliamentary elections for June 24, giving the opposition little time to select candidates and organize campaigning.

Should Erdoğan win, the elections will herald the introduction of a full presidential system of government and put an end to parliamentary democracy. Opposition candidates in the presidential election have vowed to retain parliament as the executive should they defeat Erdoğan.

Twenty-nine more journalists were jailed for alleged terrorism offences in the last week of April alone, the UN said.

“Elections held in an environment where democratic freedoms and the rule of law are compromised would raise questions about their legitimacy, and result in more uncertainty and instability,” Zeid said. “It is in the interests of the people of Turkey that the country’s constitutional order is fully restored, and that human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected, in law and practice.”  

Erdoğan's ruling party has changed election laws, allowing government officials rather than members of political parties to preside over polling booths and the security services to supervise voting. Unstamped ballots may also be counted, raising the spectre of possible fraud.