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ELECTIONS IN TURKEY:FAIR OR FRAUD-RIDDEN?Even though <strong>elections</strong> <strong>in</strong> Turkey are generally considered “free and fair” by the<strong>in</strong>ternational community, there are procedures that cast a shadow of doubt. Thisis particularly the case regard<strong>in</strong>g some practices of the Supreme Election Board(YSK) – the body responsible for the <strong>elections</strong>. At a time of dramatic politicalpolarization, as well as three approach<strong>in</strong>g <strong>elections</strong>, this article draws attention tothe potential for election fraud <strong>in</strong> Turkey.Cem Toker *W<strong>in</strong>ter 2014* Cem Toker is the Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) <strong>in</strong> Turkey.115

VOLUME 12 NUMBER 4CEM TOKERAn article question<strong>in</strong>g the legitimacy of Turkey’s electoral system maycome as a shock to many casual observers. After all, aside from hav<strong>in</strong>ga high threshold for parties to ga<strong>in</strong> representation <strong>in</strong> Parliament 1and serious problems regard<strong>in</strong>g media freedom, Turkey is generallyknown for hav<strong>in</strong>g professional management of its <strong>elections</strong>. 2 However, there areirregularities that are often overlooked. Disruptive power outages <strong>in</strong> Ankara andIstanbul dur<strong>in</strong>g the vote-count<strong>in</strong>g and data-entry hours <strong>in</strong> 2009, for example, ledopposition parties to claim that results were tilted. As demonstrated below, this caseis one of many causes for concern <strong>in</strong> Turkey’s upcom<strong>in</strong>g <strong>elections</strong>.Further, election results have <strong>in</strong> recent years taken on <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g importance as atool of political dom<strong>in</strong>ance. Dur<strong>in</strong>g his 11-year rule, Prime M<strong>in</strong>ister Recep TayyipErdoğan has justified most of his government’s democratically controversial policieswith the crude understand<strong>in</strong>g of “majority rule.” He po<strong>in</strong>ts to the election resultsthat gave his party an absolute majority <strong>in</strong> parliament, identify<strong>in</strong>g this majorityas “the national will” and therefore justification for lead<strong>in</strong>g the country <strong>in</strong> whateverway he sees fit. Accord<strong>in</strong>g to Erdoğan, “the biggest theft is the theft of the ‘nationalwill’.” 3 This article suggests that the Supreme Election Board (YSK), advertently or<strong>in</strong>advertently, might be <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> manipulat<strong>in</strong>g the “national will.”Particularly given the current political polarization <strong>in</strong> the country, it is important that<strong>in</strong>ternational election observers dig deeply below the surface to scrut<strong>in</strong>ize the fairnessand openness of the three upcom<strong>in</strong>g <strong>elections</strong> <strong>in</strong> Turkey: local <strong>in</strong> March 2014,presidential <strong>in</strong> the summer of 2014, and parliamentary <strong>in</strong> the spr<strong>in</strong>g of 2015. Ratherthan simply observ<strong>in</strong>g procedures at poll<strong>in</strong>g stations, this article suggests that thefocus should be on the number and custodial cha<strong>in</strong> of flow of ballots before andafter the <strong>elections</strong>, data entry at local election offices after the polls close, and mostimportantly, the transmission of data and ma<strong>in</strong> server-related procedures.This article therefore focuses on the practices of the YSK, which handles all <strong>elections</strong>and related voter registration processes <strong>in</strong> Turkey. The YSK is comprised ofsenior judges whose rul<strong>in</strong>gs regard<strong>in</strong>g the <strong>elections</strong> cannot be appealed to any otherlegal body <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g the Constitutional Court, and is thus an extremely powerful1 The 10 percent national election threshold, the highest <strong>in</strong> the world, leads to grossly disproportional representation <strong>in</strong>the Turkish Parliament. For example, the 2002 <strong>elections</strong> granted nearly 65 percent of parliamentary seats to the AKP, ithad only received 32 percent of the popular vote. Nevertheless, every act of the government is justified as a so-calledreflection of the “national will.”2 While Turkey is known as the country with the most jailed journalists, limits on a free press extend far beyondimprisonment. For a good discussion of the complex bus<strong>in</strong>ess l<strong>in</strong>ks between the AKP and media barons that serve to“muzzle” criticism, see: “The Turkish Media Muzzle,” Al-Jazeera, 2 April 2013,http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listen<strong>in</strong>gpost/2013/04/201342104340948788.html3 “Turkish PM Erdoğan slams media, <strong>in</strong>vestors, opposition,” Hurriyet Daily News, 28 January 2014,http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=61665&NewsCatID=338116

ELECTIONS IN TURKEY: FAIR OR FRAUD-RIDDEN?<strong>in</strong>stitution of Turkey’s electoral system. The follow<strong>in</strong>g section <strong>in</strong>vestigates irregularitiesobserved <strong>in</strong> the run-up to Turkey’s approach<strong>in</strong>g <strong>elections</strong>, justify<strong>in</strong>g thisarticle’s cause for concern.Fluctuat<strong>in</strong>g Voter NumbersAccord<strong>in</strong>g to the official numbers of the YSK, the number of registered voters wentup by 1.02 percent between 2002-7. It is surpris<strong>in</strong>g that the total number of votersbetween 2007-14 <strong>in</strong>creased by 29 percent. More surpris<strong>in</strong>g is that the population ofTurkey <strong>in</strong>creased by less than 10 percent <strong>in</strong> this latter period. 4 As the figure belowdemonstrates, although Turkey’s population has grown steadily, the number of registeredvoters reflects <strong>in</strong>explicably sharp fluctuations.Year % of AKP Vote Registered Voters Population2002 (P) 34.28% 41,407,027 65.2 million2004 (L) 54.80% 43,552,931 66.8 million2007 (P) (R) 46.58% 42,571,284 69.5 million2009 (L) 38.39% 48,049,446 71.2 million2010 (R) n/a 49,495,493 72.0 million2011 (P) 49.83% 50,189,930 73.0 million2014 (L) 54,971,000 76.6 million (est)(P): Parliamentary (L): Local (R): ReferendumThe YSK justifies the decl<strong>in</strong>e <strong>in</strong> the number of registered voters by nearly 2 millionbetween 2004-7 –despite population growth of nearly 3 million– with the “elim<strong>in</strong>ationof duplicate entries from the voter records,” 5 without provid<strong>in</strong>g any officialproof. 6 On the other hand, the sudden <strong>in</strong>crease of nearly 5.5 million voters between2007-10 –an <strong>in</strong>crease of over 10 million voters <strong>in</strong> just four years– is expla<strong>in</strong>ed bythe YSK by po<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g to the switch from a “voluntary registration system” to an “address-basedvoter system” <strong>in</strong> 2008. 74 “Seçmen sayısında şüpheli artış,” [Suspicious <strong>in</strong>crease <strong>in</strong> the number of voters], Cumhuriyet, 26 November 2013,http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/13081/Secmen_sayis<strong>in</strong>da_supheli_artis.html5 Prior to the 2007 general election, the YSK would make the list of registered voters publicly available before the<strong>elections</strong>. Those whose names did not appear on the lists could then voluntarily register. This system was vulnerable tomulti-registry of <strong>in</strong>dividuals from various locations, thus enabl<strong>in</strong>g them to vote more than once <strong>in</strong> the same election.6 “Seçmen sayısında büyük çelişki,” [Huge discrepancy <strong>in</strong> electorate numbers], Bugün, 30 April 2011,http://politika.bugun.com.tr/yskn<strong>in</strong>-son-bombasi-haberi/1526977 “Seçmen sayısı iki seçim arasında ne kadar arttı?” [How much did the electorate numbers <strong>in</strong>crease between two<strong>elections</strong>?], Milliyet, 31 May 2011, http://siyaset.milliyet.com.tr/secmen-sayisi-iki-secim-aras<strong>in</strong>da-ne-kadar-artti-/siyaset/siyasetdetay/31.05.2011/1396959/default.htm117www.turkishpolicy.com

VOLUME 12 NUMBER 4CEM TOKER“[A]lthough Turkey’spopulation has grownsteadily, the numberof registered votersreflects <strong>in</strong>explicablysharp fluctuations.”Accord<strong>in</strong>g to this system, <strong>in</strong>troducedprior to the 2009 local <strong>elections</strong>, everyTurkish citizen was supposedly registeredby the government based on thephysical address at which he or sheresided. The YSK used this databaseto update its voter registry. However,there were large numbers of press reportsand citizen compla<strong>in</strong>ts throughoutthe country of voter registriesof people liv<strong>in</strong>g on the fifth or sixthfloors of a three-story build<strong>in</strong>g, andof multiple families shown as resid<strong>in</strong>g<strong>in</strong> the same flat. In a controversial and unprecedented decision, the TurkishStatistics Institution (TUIK) decided on 20 November 2008 to destroy all recordsused for “address-based voter registry” –less than a year after it was madepublic. Despite objections from political parties and op<strong>in</strong>ion leaders, the agencydestroyed all data. 8In another controversial decision, <strong>in</strong> 2009 the YSK decided –after decades of use– tostop the practice of plac<strong>in</strong>g dye on the <strong>in</strong>dex f<strong>in</strong>ger of the voters <strong>in</strong> order to avoidduplicate vot<strong>in</strong>g. Furthermore, YSK refused to publish the results of the 2010 referendumon ballot box basis, mean<strong>in</strong>g it was impossible to f<strong>in</strong>d out the breakdownof votes at a ballot box, only aggregate figures were shared. When a number of politicalparties and figures, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g CHP Konya Deputy Atilla Kart, challenged thelogic beh<strong>in</strong>d this rul<strong>in</strong>g, the only official explanation from YSK was that it was an“adm<strong>in</strong>istrative rul<strong>in</strong>g.” 9It should also be noted that Turkey first began us<strong>in</strong>g the software developed by SunMicrosystems called Computer Supported Centralized Voter Roll System (SECSIS)<strong>in</strong> 2007, before the parliamentary <strong>elections</strong>. The technical debate surround<strong>in</strong>g thecontroversy of this system still cont<strong>in</strong>ues <strong>in</strong> Turkey. 10 Critics suggest that this systemis vulnerable to electronic manipulation and programm<strong>in</strong>g, thus also hav<strong>in</strong>g thepotential to skew ballot box results.8 Tarhan Erdem, “Adrese dayalı seçmen kütükleri evrakının imhası,” [The destruction of address-based electoralregistry documents], Radikal, 5 De<strong>cem</strong>ber 2008,http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/tarhan_erdem/adrese_dayali_secmen_kutukleri_evrak<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>_imhasi-9114339 Oktay Ekşi, “Saydamlıktan neden korkuyoruz?,” [Why are we afraid of transparency?], Hürriyet, 11 August 2007,http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/7067113_p.asp10 “SEÇSİS alarm veriyor, YSK sessiz,” [SEÇSİS is giv<strong>in</strong>g alarm signals, YSK rema<strong>in</strong>s silent], Radikal, 6 September2010, http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/secsis_alarm_veriyor_ysk_sessiz-1017480118

ELECTIONS IN TURKEY: FAIR OR FRAUD-RIDDEN?Disappear<strong>in</strong>g BallotsSuspicion of ballot irregularities wasperhaps most prom<strong>in</strong>ent follow<strong>in</strong>g the2011 Parliamentary <strong>elections</strong>. Priorto these <strong>elections</strong>, the YSK decided tohave 19 million (or 38 percent) moreballots pr<strong>in</strong>ted than the number of registeredvoters, order<strong>in</strong>g nearly 69 millionballots. It should be noted that <strong>in</strong> allprevious <strong>elections</strong>, the YSK traditionallyhas only ordered around 5-10 percentextra ballots pr<strong>in</strong>ted. Despite the factthat under no circumstances may a citizenwho is given a ballot at the poll<strong>in</strong>gstation request that it be replaced witha new one, no official explanation wasprovided regard<strong>in</strong>g the need for 19 millionadditional ballots.“Prior to [the 2011Parliamentary] <strong>elections</strong>,the YSK decided to have19 million (or 38 percent)more ballots pr<strong>in</strong>ted thanthe number of registeredvoters, order<strong>in</strong>g nearly69 million ballots.”Five days after the June 2011 parliamentary <strong>elections</strong>, <strong>in</strong> a letter to YSK (correspondence#14760), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) questioned the fate andthe storage locations of these extra 19 million ballots, as well as the approximately6.5 million unused ballots belong<strong>in</strong>g to voters who did not go to the polls. After all,transport<strong>in</strong>g, stor<strong>in</strong>g, and ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g the custodial cha<strong>in</strong> of possession of nearly 26million ballots plus that many envelopes would present a challenge to YSK.In its response to the LDP on 22 June 2011(Correspondence #3849), the YSK <strong>in</strong>dicatedthat all used and unused ballots are kept <strong>in</strong> local election boards for two years.They are then shipped to the “General Directorate of Archives”, –which operatesunder the jurisdiction of the Prime M<strong>in</strong>istry– and shredded.In August 2013, the LDP sent an official letter to the General Directorate of Archives<strong>in</strong>quir<strong>in</strong>g whether the destruction of previous <strong>elections</strong>’ used and unused ballots is <strong>in</strong>their official job description. Rather than provid<strong>in</strong>g a yes or no answer, the officialsat the General Directorate of Archives suggested that the LDP pose this questionto the YSK. LDP then <strong>in</strong>sisted upon an answer to the <strong>in</strong>itial question, po<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g outthat the YSK is not responsible for def<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g the mission of the General Directoratefor Archives. Eventually officials stated to the LDP that it was not among theDirectorate’s responsibilities to shred and destroy the ballots.119www.turkishpolicy.com

VOLUME 12 NUMBER 4CEM TOKEROnly after LDP presented the YSK letter of 2011 to the General Directorate ofArchives, <strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g that all ballots are handed over to the archives agency to beshredded would the agency admit that ballots were received from YSK <strong>in</strong> the summerof 2013 and destroyed <strong>in</strong> one of their facilities.“It is no secret that, aftereach election, used andunused ballots turn up <strong>in</strong>dumpsters <strong>in</strong> Turkey.”These contradictory statements and <strong>in</strong>consistentofficial responses from governmentagencies simply strengthenconspiracy theories regard<strong>in</strong>g the alreadycontroversial practice of pr<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g19 million extra ballots and their whereabouts.Accord<strong>in</strong>g to some segments ofTurkish public op<strong>in</strong>ion, these extra ballotswere discreetly distributed to localofficials of the AKP after be<strong>in</strong>g stamped“yes” for the rul<strong>in</strong>g party. These ballots were then handed over to trusted partymembers –especially <strong>in</strong> rural areas– where voters would deposit the pre-stampedballot <strong>in</strong>to the ballot box, and keep the one issued to them at the polls. After the<strong>elections</strong>, they were supposedly monetarily rewarded upon submission of the blankballot to a party official.It is no secret that, after each election, used and unused ballots turn up <strong>in</strong> dumpsters<strong>in</strong> Turkey. S<strong>in</strong>ce they are believed not to be <strong>in</strong> quantities significant enough tochange the outcome of the <strong>elections</strong>, however, no legal steps have been taken so far.In order to address this problem, the LDP urged the YSK to code ballots with numbers<strong>in</strong>dicat<strong>in</strong>g the city, town, and poll<strong>in</strong>g station to which they are assigned. In itsresponse, officials at the YSK <strong>in</strong>dicated that all <strong>in</strong>formation pr<strong>in</strong>ted on the ballotsis governed by the respective election laws and a legislative amendment would berequired <strong>in</strong> order to place codes on the ballots. Through direct contact and media,the LDP has called upon parties represented <strong>in</strong> parliament to <strong>in</strong>itiate this change.However, no party has responded to the LDP’s call so far.Transparency and Oversight ConcernsIn the summer of 2013, the YSK announced that it would scan and make public everyofficial ballot over the Internet. S<strong>in</strong>ce there will be nearly 200,000 ballot boxes<strong>in</strong> Turkey dur<strong>in</strong>g the 2014 local <strong>elections</strong>, publish<strong>in</strong>g all ballots before the period120

ELECTIONS IN TURKEY: FAIR OR FRAUD-RIDDEN?<strong>in</strong> which objections to declared outcomes can be made expires –usually with<strong>in</strong> 72hours follow<strong>in</strong>g the <strong>elections</strong>– would require a monumental effort. As of February2014, almost two months before the <strong>elections</strong>, it is not yet clear whether the YSKwill have the resources to accomplish this task.After the LDP <strong>in</strong>quired earlier <strong>in</strong>January 2014 as to whether the YSKstill <strong>in</strong>tended to publish election resultson a per-ballot box basis, the YSK respondedvaguely that it will make allefforts to ensure that Turkish votersbenefit from state of the art technology<strong>in</strong> track<strong>in</strong>g election results. This was farfrom a clarification of the issue.It should also be noted that, although theentire election process and its oversightare assigned to the YSK, which is partof the judicial branch, the software andelectronic components of the <strong>elections</strong>cont<strong>in</strong>ue to rema<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> the control of agenciesthat are part of the executive branch:“Ensur<strong>in</strong>g free, democratic,and fair <strong>elections</strong> allow<strong>in</strong>gfor a peaceful transitionof power <strong>in</strong> Turkey is vitalespecially <strong>in</strong> a periodwhen Turkish democracyis promoted as a modelto regimes struggl<strong>in</strong>g totransition to democracy<strong>in</strong> the Arab world.”• The list of registered voters and their addresses is provided to the YSK bythe General Directorate of Population, serv<strong>in</strong>g under the M<strong>in</strong>istry of Interior.• A database called UYAP, controlled only by the M<strong>in</strong>istry of Justice, is usedfor the flow of election results electronically from local data entry to thema<strong>in</strong> server.• All Internet l<strong>in</strong>es are under the scrut<strong>in</strong>y and jurisdiction of the M<strong>in</strong>istry ofTransportation.ConclusionAny <strong>in</strong>formed citizen, after putt<strong>in</strong>g the pieces of this puzzle together, would havereasonable doubt about the controversial practices utilized before and after eachelection s<strong>in</strong>ce the AKP came to power <strong>in</strong> 2002.121www.turkishpolicy.com

VOLUME 12 NUMBER 4CEM TOKERA loss <strong>in</strong> show<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> the <strong>elections</strong> would take away AKP’s ability to justify its controversialpolicies with the argument that this is the choice of the nation. It would<strong>in</strong>crease the chances that AKP affiliates be pressured to give account for corruptionand other violations. Given the tense and polarized climate follow<strong>in</strong>g mass protestaga<strong>in</strong>st Erdoğan’s heavy-handed rule dur<strong>in</strong>g the Gezi protests, and the public outcry<strong>in</strong> the wake of the corruption <strong>in</strong>vestigations <strong>in</strong>itiated aga<strong>in</strong>st AKP <strong>in</strong>siders on17 De<strong>cem</strong>ber, the potential seems high for the AKP to try to use whatever meansavailable to establish that it is not los<strong>in</strong>g ground among the public. Historical irregularitiesat the ballot box and beyond suggest that electoral manipulation may be oneof these means.Elements of Turkey’s civil society are prepar<strong>in</strong>g to counteract any such efforts thatmay arise. Several local citizens’ <strong>in</strong>itiatives are hop<strong>in</strong>g to match official YSK resultsto those observed by nonpartisan volunteers at the poll<strong>in</strong>g stations. One of the largestof these citizen <strong>in</strong>itiatives is located <strong>in</strong> Istanbul, called “Oy ve Ötesi” or “Voteand Beyond” (www.oyveotesi.org). Volunteers will transmit numbers on the officiallogs to a database where cumulative totals for all parties are tracked. The totals willthen be compared to the official results published. The <strong>in</strong>itiative, however, is struggl<strong>in</strong>gto assign volunteers to monitor the count<strong>in</strong>g and logg<strong>in</strong>g of votes at 33,000ballot boxes <strong>in</strong> nearly 1,600 poll<strong>in</strong>g stations <strong>in</strong> Istanbul. Further, this <strong>in</strong>itiative willbe useful only if YSK publishes the official results on per-ballot box basis before theobjection period ends.Given limited domestic capacity to ensure transparency, and the concerns regard<strong>in</strong>gthe potential for vote-rigg<strong>in</strong>g outl<strong>in</strong>ed above, the <strong>in</strong>ternational election observersand community should closely monitor all phases of the three consecutive <strong>elections</strong>to take place <strong>in</strong> 2014 and 2015 <strong>in</strong> Turkey. Ensur<strong>in</strong>g free, democratic, and fair <strong>elections</strong>allow<strong>in</strong>g for a peaceful transition of power <strong>in</strong> Turkey is vital especially <strong>in</strong> aperiod when Turkish democracy is promoted as a model to regimes struggl<strong>in</strong>g totransition to democracy <strong>in</strong> the Arab world.International agencies, like OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions andHuman Rights based <strong>in</strong> Warsaw and The Election Observation Mission of TheParliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe can have unh<strong>in</strong>dered access to monitorelectronic data entry and to the ma<strong>in</strong> servers dur<strong>in</strong>g and after the <strong>elections</strong>.Turkish press, political parties, and citizen <strong>in</strong>itiative groups are mostly bannedfrom observ<strong>in</strong>g these steps.122

ELECTIONS IN TURKEY: FAIR OR FRAUD-RIDDEN?Despite all the democratization rhetoric from the AKP government <strong>in</strong> the last 11years, Turkey has steadily dropped down to 88th place <strong>in</strong> Economist IntelligenceUnit Democracy Index <strong>in</strong> 2012 and cont<strong>in</strong>ues to be listed a “hybrid regime”. 11For Turkey, as a member of NATO s<strong>in</strong>ce 1952 and as a country <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> EUmembership talks for the last decade, conduct<strong>in</strong>g fair and democratic <strong>elections</strong>should be one of the primary prerequisites. After all, it is more than fair to expectTurkey to meet the standards of the union of nations she has been pursu<strong>in</strong>gto become a part of.11 “Democracy <strong>in</strong>dex 2012: Democracy at a standstill,” The Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2013,https://portoncv.gov.cv/dhub/porton.por_global.open_file?p_doc_id=1034123www.turkishpolicy.com

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