In my Washington Times op-ed yesterday, I called Turkey's election tomorrow "among the least important" in the country's recent history. In part, this is because there is less doubt than ever before among informed analysts that the election will be marred by fraud. I share some of their insights below.
Sayed Abdel-Meguid, Al-Ahram's excellent Turkey correspondent, first tells how Erdoğan has hogged the airwaves to the exclusion of everyone else in the run up to the June 7 elections, then he tells about the AKP's backup plans:
According to some sources, certain instructions are to be delivered to public school directors who will be supervising the ballot boxes and the tallying of votes. In preparation for this, school directors from parties other than the ruling JDP [i.e., AKP] have been dismissed. In addition, in blatant violation of the electoral law, and as the Supreme Election Board looked on without saying a word, JDP officials convened a large meeting with electoral ward officials. So clearly something is being cooked up in the manner of the recipes that adjusted the results of the municipal elections in March 2014.
In this regard, a survey published 7 May reports that a considerable majority of Turkish voters expect the government to rig the polls. The study, "Turkish public opinion dynamics ahead of the June 2015 elections," conducted by the Open Society Institute, Koç University and Ohio State University, found that 77 per cent of voters oppose the government and do not expect that the elections will be fair, and that 73 per cent of voters do not approve of the presidential system Erdoğan is bent on imposing in his name.
Thomas Siebert further weighs in on concerns about unfair tactics:
Erdogan's critics are concerned that the president might resort to foul play to ensure an AKP landslide. The secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's biggest opposition group, says it will send a total of 525,000 volunteers to observe vote-counting on polling day. One reason the opposition is worried is that several power cuts hindered vote-counting after local elections last year, triggering accusations of vote-rigging to the AKP's benefit. At the time, the government said a cat had entered a power distribution unit and caused a short circuit.
HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş says he's confident his party will pass the 10 percent threshold to win seats in parliament.
Wondering out loud what the problem this year might be. A rat?
Al-Monitor senior columnist Cengiz Çandar notes AKP fears of the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, or HDP) making the 10 percent threshold and getting into parliament, thereby depriving the AKP of the super-majority it needs to make constitutional changes to enhance the president's power:
Many worry that election security is not guaranteed and will not be guaranteed on the day of the election. This could mean that the HDP's passing the 10% threshold might not just depend on the electorate, but on officialdom as well. There are worries that there might be a lot of election rigging by AKP leaders to push the HDP below the election threshold.
Gareth Jenkins worries that expectations of fraud are so high there may be post-election unrest regardless:
Opinion polls suggest that support for the HDP is currently running at around 10 per cent. If the party fails to win any seats on June 7, most of its supporters are likely to assume that it is because of electoral fraud, and distrust of the Erdoğan regime will deepen still further as a result. There is a high risk that this resentment will trigger a cascade of civil unrest, both in southeast Turkey and in urban areas in the west of the country.
In "Turkish civic society mobilizes against election fraud," Al-Monitor columnist Kadri Gürsel reviews the discussion about this particularly sensitive issue.
Remarkably, a significant part of the Turkish public expect irregularities in the count, or, to put it plainly, vote-rigging. A survey made public May 5 by Koç University academics Ali Çarkoğlu and Erdem Aytaç provided a striking illustration of how popular confidence in fair elections has eroded.
According to the survey, ... 46% of voters are convinced the ballots will not be counted properly. The figure stands at 15% even among AKP supporters and reaches up to 72% among opposition voters. Similarly, 43% of the electorate believes the June 7 elections will not be fair. The party breakdown shows that 11% of AKP backers and 69% of opposition supporters hold this opinion. ...
Similar surveys ahead of the 2007 general election found that 28% of voters believed the polls would not be fair; the figure was 30% in 2011. A 13-point increase four years later sounds a serious alarm.
Of course, vote rigging is more effective in close races. A Kurdish figure, Murat Karayilan, explains what this means for HDP:
I don't think the HDP could surpass the threshold with 10.5% or 11% of the vote because they [the government and its supporters] will be cheating. They will be invalidating votes or stealing votes.
He thinks the HDP has to win 12 percent of the vote to make sure it passes the 10 percent threshold.
An NGO called Democracy's Overseers produced a booklet, sarcastically titled The Manual of a Vote Thief, pointing to common means of effecting electoral fraud in Turkey:
Moving voters from one constituency to another with the help of civil registry officials and neighborhood headmen.
Removing voters of rival parties from electoral registers.
Falsifying votes, whereby surplus ballot papers are stamped in advance and arranged to match electoral registers. Bags full of fake votes are then put in place of the real ones.
Power outages during vote counting.
This last has became notorious, as Gürsel explains:
Multiple, simultaneous power outages became a hallmark of the 2014 municipal polls, going down in Turkish political history as the "cat in the transformer" incident. While vote counting was underway in the evening of March 30, simultaneous power cuts hit 35 provinces across Turkey, including Istanbul. Two days later, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız went down in history by claiming that a cat had slipped into an electrical transformer unit, causing a short-circuit failure. "Cats" have since become a sarcastic metaphor for vote theft in opposition jargon.
Because opposition parties have failed to focus on voter fraud, others have taken up the slack, and especially a group that emerged out of the 2013 Gezi Park protests called Vote and Beyond (which in Turkish comes out euphonically as Oy ve Ötesi). Gürsel continues:
The movement made its name during the 2014 municipal elections when it deployed 30,000 volunteer observers at polling stations across the country. For the June 7 elections, Vote and Beyond plans to mobilize up to 70,000 volunteers to monitor vote counting at 106,000 ballot boxes in 162 districts in 45 of Turkey's 81 provinces. The 162 districts include the country's 100 largest districts and 62 districts where the margin between the first and the second party is less than 3%. In other words, those are the districts where electoral fraud could sway the overall outcome.
Gürsel further notes that
Vote and Beyond volunteers will be able to watch only the vote-casting and counting process, which is the observable part of the election, taking place at 175,000 ballot boxes in 970 districts across the country. The process of entering the counts into the centralized computer system and the announcement of final results is not open to observation. To compensate for that, the group has prepared its own software, a sophisticated program of cross-checking and control, which will be used to compare the official results and the results the group will collect through its observers.
Even low-level fraud can make a difference. As Vote and Beyond Chairman Sercan Çelebi points out,
An average of 370 votes are cast in each ballot box. If three votes change place in each ballot box, this means a 1% shift in the national total overall.
Thus, even a sliver of garden variety fraud could be sufficient to leave the HDP out of parliament and ensure continued AKP supremacy.
Daniel Pipes is President of the Middle East Forum