Political opponents and international observers on Monday raised concerns about the conduct and outcome of Sunday’s Turkish parliamentary elections in which the incumbent Justice and Development party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan defied poll expectations to regain a governing majority.
“Now a party with some 50 percent in Turkey has attained power… this should be respected by the whole world, but I have not seen such maturity,” said Erdogan, the founder of the AKP and its leader until 2014, on Monday, dismissing criticism from the international and domestic critics.
The AKP, now led by current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, gained about half of votes cast to win 316 seats in the 550-member parliament, as millions of voters turned back to the party that had lost its majority for the first time since coming to power in 2002 in indecisive elections in June.
But some opposition figures expressed concern about alleged irregularities in the voting and complained that the run-up to the vote had not taken place in safe or fair conditions.
Leaders of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), which entered parliament for the first time in June and held onto enough votes to meet Turkey’s 10-percent parliamentary threshold, described the outcome as unfair due to the intense pressure its activists faced following attacks on their offices and a series of bomb attacks that killed scores of people and made many fear appearing on public platforms.
“This was no fair election,” said HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, speaking at a press conference shortly after the announcement of the result.
“We won close to 11 percent without a campaign, trying to protect our people from a massacre.”
Nazmi Gur, the HDP’s vice co-chair for foreign affairs, said that his party’s activists had felt an atmosphere of violence surrounding their campaigning.
“After the bombing in Ankara [at a peace rally on 10 October] we cancelled all our mass activities, like demonstrations, like open air meetings, rallies, because there was a continuing risk against us and a risk of assassination against our leaders,” he told Middle East Eye, adding that the leadership now had police guards.
In a press conference on Sunday night, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said his party would respect the result, but said that the country’s recent violence had influenced the outcome.
“Today’s result puts more responsibility on the CHP. We respect today’s result as we did on June 7. Nobody should feel themselves above the law and every citizen’s life and safety should be protected. We have always stood with the oppressed and we will continue to do so,” Kilicdaroglu said.
In a press conference on Monday, a delegation from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had deployed electoral observers to Turkey, suggested that a combination of rising violence, particularly in the southeast, and restrictions on media freedom, meant that the environment for the election was “unfair”.
“We come to the conclusion that this campaign was unfair and was characterised by too much violence and too much fear and fear is the enemy of democracy and the enemy of free choice,” said Andreas Gross, the head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Margareta Cederfelt, head of the OSCE parliamentary assembly delegation, said that the arrests of over 1,000 HDP activists, according to the party, coupled with attacks on their offices had “hindered contestants ability to campaign freely”.
“Media freedom was dealt a blow during the election campaign,” she added, referring to raids on media offices during the campaigning period.
She particularly highlighted the effective government takeover of the Koza Ipek Holding group – which owns the TV channels Bugun TV, Kanalturk TV, as well as the Bugun newspaper – as evidence that there had not been a free and pluralistic media landscape.
Some members of the HDP took the allegations further, complaining of irregularities in the vote count.
Haluk Agabeyoglu, described as the HDP’s “data processing attendant,” claimed that Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) had announced the election results for districts before the votes had reached the proper counting authorities.
“People can cast their votes till 17:00, after which polls close and votes are counted,” he said, speaking to the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency.
“The voting papers are later put in bags and taken to the affiliated district election board together with result reports. According to the law, votes and reports are compiled at district election board before their delivery to the YSK.
“However, the YSK announced the results for many regions of Istanbul before the transfer of the voting papers to the district election board. In some districts like Besiktas, the result reports were consolidated at schools and submitted to YSK without being delivered to the district election board.
“This is purely unlawful.”
Frustrations were further raised by the YSK closing its news site just three hours after the end of voting on Sunday and subsequent refusal to provide any formal results.
The YSK said the final official results would be available in about 10 days, with only estimates compiled by the media and the parties available in the meantime.
Sunday’s preliminary results were greeted with anger in parts of the Kurdish-majority southeast, where clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish separatists and the region’s proximity to the war in Syria have increased tensions.
At least one person was reported killed and 25 injured in clashes in the town of Nusaybin on Sunday evening, according to Firat. Middle East Monitor