Turkey’s constitutional referendum fought on unlevel playing field, says OSCE in highly critical report

Turkey’s constitutional referendum fought on unlevel playing field, says OSCE in highly critical report
The head of a polling station commisson in Ankara explaining voting procedures to Tana de Zulueta, head of the ODIHR limited observation mission for Turkey's constitutional referendum, 16 April, 2017. / (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)
By bne IntelliNews April 17, 2017

The 16 April constitutional referendum in Turkey was contested on an unlevel playing field, and the two sides in the campaign did not have equal opportunities, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a report published on April 17.

The claims in the report are rather damning. The OSCE argued that voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and civil society organisations were not able to participate. Moreover, it said the work of the electoral boards lacked transparency.

The government in Ankara is likely to dismiss the report as unfair and the claims in the report as groundless as it insists the referendum was fair and transparent. 

According to unofficial results, it was a narrow win for the 'Yes' camp that included President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP and the nationalist opposition party MHP with 51.4% of the vote. But the main opposition CHP, which led the No campaign, has said it would contest the results. Earlier on April 17, a senior figure from the CHP called for the annulment of the referendum over alleged irregularities.

 “On referendum day there were no major problems, except in some regions, however we can only regret the absence of civil society observers in polling stations,” Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said at a press conference in Ankara.

 “In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” Preda claimed.

Echoing the opposition party’s concern, the OSCE report noted that “the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) issued instructions late in the day that significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”

While voting was underway, the YSK declared that it would count ballots that had not been stamped by its officials as valid unless they could be proved fraudulent.

The board has maintained that ballots and envelopes provided to voters on Sunday are valid.

The OSCE did not say whether a recount of the votes was needed or that the referendum results should be annulled – a demand voiced by opposition figures.

The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters,” said Tana de Zulueta, head of the OSCE/ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) limited election observation mission.

The government declared a state of emergency in the wake of the failed coup attempt last July that left more than 200 people dead.

The National Security Council (MGK) will convene late on April 17 amid speculation that it will extend a state of emergency by another three months, Hurriyet Daily News reported.