Turkey is entering an unmonitored, insecure and closed election process in the wake of a disaster. Closed, because the Minister of the Interior has already openly characterized the election as a “coup attempt”. 14 May is no longer just an election for us, but a matter of life or death in the face of this clear threat.
The date of the election was given, announced to the press and decided by President Erdoğan himself. The political powers that be, which has always seen the ballot box and the nation as the justification for its lack of legitimacy, has thereby changed its electoral language.
It seems that these elections—which we are about to enter under a state of emergency in 11 provinces—will be conducted under a “de facto state of emergency” for the entire country.
Another handicap is related to the citizens in the earthquake zone. A large swath of them are at risk of not being able to vote due to the fact that the tents and containers they took shelter in cannot be registered as residences.
Earthquake victims who have left their cities are forced to return to their provinces for the elections, and are directed to vote in the areas where their destroyed houses are located. Because the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) did not allow the ballot boxes to be exchanged between provinces, the right to vote has been jeopardized for earthquake victims.
How safe and fair will the elections be, if held without accounting for the earthquake victims who have left the earthquake zones?
We know that only about 133,000 of the more than 14 million people living in the 11 provinces in the earthquake zone have updated their registration, but the situation of the remaining citizens is unknown.
Electoral security is not only the security of votes and ballot boxes, but also the security provided by a reliable election calendar. The conditions for this security are not provided for the earthquake victims. The YSK was established to ensure that elections were held under judicial supervision and not under the shadow of the political executive. However, the duty of preparing the electoral rolls was transferred to the central administration from local administrations after a 2022 amendment.
The authority taken from the municipalities was given to the General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs under the Ministry of the Interior. In other words, the YSK does not create the lists itself, but receives them directly from the Ministry of the Interior.
Furthermore, the YSK’s decisions are exempt from any kind of judicial mechanism—a closed circuit system. And this is not the only handicap.
Another problem is related to the President of the Republic.
The previous regulation in the Electoral Law had stipulated that the prime minister and ministers were prohibited from using their official office and the public privileges of their titles during the election process.
This was removed.
Then, in its latest decision, the YSK stated that ministers do not have to resign as they are not public officials. Not only that, no regulation was made on how the privileges of these high-ranking executive officials would be balanced throughout the electoral process. Instead, everything was left to the arbitrary discretion of the government.
In other words, regulatory Electoral Law was abolished, but nothing was put in its place to ensure that those ministers who do not resign are prevented from undermining equality of opportunity in the electoral process.
Because the position of President was a neutral one prior to 2017, the former regulation did not ban the President. Since the 2017 constitutional amendment, no provision has been made to prevent the President from abusing his public position and privilege during the election process.
It goes without saying: reliable elections and a fair electoral environment are undermined when the public privileges, state facilities, and budget are under the unilateral authority of a biased president.
A final handicap concerns the heads of provincial and district election boards.
According to the law, the heads of provincial and district election boards were the most senior judges in the region. This was an electoral guarantee: as a public office it was not possible to voluntarily resign without just cause.
With the new regulation, the heads of provincial and district election boards will be determined by a lottery. In other words, it will not be as certain and predictable as before.
But the most critical point here is this:
Judges who do not want this duty are given the right not to participate in the draw if they wish. While it is obvious that a judge may not want this duty due to possible political pressures, especially in local and provincial areas, but in general in each region, the way is paved for judges who do not agree with the political power to easily withdraw from this duty.
Therefore, the lottery will be held among the judges who are likely to be biased.
Since the decisions of provincial and district election boards are appealed to the YSK and the YSK’s decisions are not subject to judicial review or appeal, the decisions of these boards are crucial. The “closed circuit system” created at the provincial and district levels jeopardizes all citizens’ rights to appeal.
This article was translated and shortened by FTP fand originally published by Birikim.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.