COMMENT: Did ballot box fraud deliver Erdogan his election win?

COMMENT: Did ballot box fraud deliver Erdogan his election win?
Erdogan (sixth from right) with members of his new cabinet on June 5. / Turkish presidency
By bne IntelIiNews June 6, 2023

It’s not good enough, Turkey. They say Recep Tayyip Erdogan confounded the pundits, confounded the opinion pollsters, even confounded logic in comfortably winning re-election at the end of May. The analysts have been in overdrive, explaining to one and all the complexities that lay behind that unlikely victory that we all apparently missed. “It’s not the economy, stupid” is the slogan du jour as we’re told how the fact that Erdogan has immiserated vast constituencies across his country with by far the worst economic crisis since 2001 turned out not to matter.

Move away from your keyboard. Put down your pen. There’s nothing to see here. Conservative and nationalistic values, Erdogan’s charismatic populism, barnstorming speeches and religiosity, his standing tall on the world stage, overcame it all, we are told. People, don’t you know, voted to be poorer. That’s right. Of the many millions with hunger issues in Erdogan’s decimated economy, great numbers shrugged off the grinding poverty all around and went out to vote for the big man. We are asked to believe that the very fellow who’s placed Turkey on the edge of the economic abyss with bewildering monetary policies is the very fellow, the only fellow, who can fix the mess. That’s how the voters saw it, we’re assured, end of.

Sorry, but in the eyes of bne IntelliNews—which for many years has kept a close eye on Turkey and the Erdogan regime, day in, day out—it is scarcely believable, indeed it is NOT believable. And so those little motors in our brains started whirring again.

What if, we thought, what if the amount of ballot box fraud that featured in the elections was far, far more prevalent than anyone has yet assessed and reported?

That’s surely too far-fetched, we were set to conclude, but then we remembered Turkey’s constitutional referendum in the spring of 2017 (and a Swedish academic’s ballot box data analysis entitled “The Curious Case of the Vanishing Never-AKPers in Southeastern Turkey”) and then we came across a May 16 Twitter thread posted by political prisoner Selahattin Demirtas on the cheating he says has impacted Turkish elections for years.

Demirtas, who stood for president in 2014 and 2018, is the former co-leader of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party HDP who has been in jail for six years despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling for his release. Erdogan ignores the European court and calls him a “terrorist”. No evidence for that has ever been presented.

In his thread, Demirtas explains that in Turkey “the most important evidence in vote counting and consolidation [in voting precincts] is the counting report with its wet signature. This report is signed by the ballot box chairman and the political party representatives of the ballot box committee. If there is no objection to the minutes, the sealed ballot bag cannot be opened and counted again at any stage”.

Demirtas then asks: “What if all those who were registered as members of a ballot box committee were in fact supporters of AKP-MHP [Erdogan’s ruling party and its ultranationalist junior coalition partner] who had had themselves registered as representatives of opposition parties? That's when the entire ballot box committee, including the ballot box chairman, would be made up of supporters of the government.”

Detailing the next stage of how this rigging process would work, Demirtas suggests that, while the votes were being counted, if there was no observer, ballot box committee members would arrange the counting report as they wished and sign it on behalf of the opposition Green Left Party, CHP and IYI Party. The opposition parties “do not object”, he says, “because they trust this report, they record it in the system. Thus, the YSK [Supreme Election Board] data and the wet signed minutes appear to be compatible, and the whereabouts of the fraud cannot be found”.

According to Demirtas, such operations have been carried out for years in Turkey, most especially in the Black Sea and Central Anatolia regions.

Doing the math, he points out that if, for instance, only 150 votes were stolen from each of the 20,000 ballot boxes across Turkey, the number of stolen votes would be three million, enough to change the outcome of the election.

Political analysts everywhere with their stupefying arguments that Erdogan won despite it all should take pause. Perhaps the election outcome hinged on something rather more simple than their elaborately constructed hypotheses, such as a straight case of overwhelming fraud out in the voting precincts that moved the counter.

It's no trivial matter. The opposition parties should demand an inquiry and the Turkish government should call one. If only to clear the air.