Referendum in Turkey: The ‘no’ bloc need to have a programme

Evrensel (24 April 2017)

Serpil Ilgun from Evrensel Daily talked to Murat Somer, Associate Professor of Political Sciences and International Relations from Koc University in Istanbul about the Turkish referendum and its social outcomes.

Somer: The ‘No’ bloc owes its success to its calm. The results have given them self-confidence and this needs to be maintained.

Somer shared the view that the 48.6 percent share of the vote by the “No” bloc has opened a new path for democratic popular movement, but for that they need to have an alternative political programme. “Such programme could help this bloc overcome its divisions and even enable some sections of the “yes” bloc to lend their support,” said Somer, as there are many people in the ‘yes’ side with some real concerns.

He believes that Turkey is going through a process of construction of an electoral authoritarian regime, and claims that “as this is not fixed yet all political actors have a window of opportunity now”.

Somer, who is known for his work on democratisation, authoritarian and hybrid regimes, Kurdish question, political Islam, politics of ethnicity and conflicts, also talked about possible effects of the referendum on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

* * *

Let’s begin with the decision of the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) to consider the unstamped ballot papers as valid (the law requires all ballot papers should have an official stamp) which caused a lot of uproar.

Since 1950 Turkey has successfully held transparent elections in general. Previous problems were small and local and were resolved within the law. The extent of today’s allegations have the potential to influence the results of the overall referendum. The decision of the YSK presents important problems: 1. Creating suspicion about its independence, 2. The extent of the mistake or wrongdoing may change the result of the referendum, 3. Disregard for a vital principle regarding safe and secret balloting. This principle was also violated during the vote in the parliament on constitutional amendment.

When unstamped ballot papers are considered valid it is not possible to argue the case for secret balloting, or to make sure that the ballot paper is not illegally taken in from outside. As it was allowed to stamp the unstamped ballot papers while the vote was still going on, in other words, evidence was tampered with, it is almost impossible to have a recount.

What would you say to those claims that unstamped ballot papers were part of a plan in case the “No” vote won (to demand the cancellation of the vote by bringing on this issue)?

Without evidence we cannot know this but obeying the rules and regulations is important for democracy. The issue is that YSK violated the most basic principles and cast doubt on the referendum. I think there is lack of an independent institution that could effectively deal with all allegations of irregularities.

The first and second biggest parties in opposition object to the results in 60 percent of the ballot boxes. Millions of people are doubtful of the referendum result. At this stage an independent institution was to ensure a transparent process and inquiry. But this didn’t happen. Objections were sidelined and a new de facto situation was created. If this hadn’t happened we might have come to the conclusion that the irregularities were not to such an extent that would change the referendum result. But the YSK quickly concluded that “there was no violation” without proper investigation.

This created an unprecedented mistrust among the public regarding future elections. The ‘No’ bloc, which I think should be called the ‘democracy bloc’ should now concentrate on reforms and mechanisms that will ensure safe and lawful elections, an impartial YSK, and equal rights for all parties during the campaign process. These demands could also attract support from some sections of the ‘Yes’ side, and preparations could start for these demands for reforms as early as for the forthcoming elections in 2019.

How could this be achieved?

They need to have an alternative programme and a presidential candidate who could raise the demand for democracy and a scrutinized administration, pledging for reforms to strengthen the parliemantarian system and democracy. Such a candidate who gets the support of various sections can even restrict their power to ensure this transition.

This could be a semi-presidential system, which could also get support from within the AKP, ensuring real separation of powers, judiciary independence and impartiality. This agenda could also help the ‘No’ bloc to overcome its divisions.

The official application for the annulment of the referendum has been turned down. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition, went to the supreme court , with no success, and now taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Half of the population feel angry and unsettled because they think the referendum result is unjust. Despite criminalisation and raids street protests are going on, but the opposition view on this is divided. What do you think is the way forward?

The democracy bloc needs to express their just cause continuously and use all legitimate methods in its search for justice. But this should not overshadow more important goals such as different sections of people coming together on a common ground to discuss how to be successful in the 2019 elections, how divisions can be overcome, what kind of candidate can be put forward and on what kind of political programme, etc.

What would you say to the criticisms that the CHP is not full heartedly defending its objections to the YSK decision on the referendum results or the demand for the invalidation of the referendum, and not supporting the street protests?

It is vital to know how to take the leadership in this kind of crises, responding quickly and decisively with well thought out steps and with strategies to communicate with the public. However, the challenges the CHP is faced with are not unique to Turkey but very similar to those regimes with what we call electoral authoritarianism. Right now in Turkey this kind of regime is in the process of being established. It is not settled yet and it could take a better or a worse direction.

In such regimes there is a political arena determined by the political power, a very restricted arena which is open to manipulations. What you can do is very limited so long as you accept to work within this arena, where you are always the one being beaten up, tripped up and shown to be weak. That is the aim. When you reject to practise politics in this arena you are marginalised. It might be relatively easy for a party which has developed with a strong rank and file as it has the experience to deal with such issues. But CHP has never been outside the system. It considers itself to be representing the state and has no experience, knowledge or reflex in having to make such choices. Same dilemmas are true for the opposition in civic society. But the advantage is that in Turkey an electoral authoritarian regime is not settled yet.

You need to show the public that all your steps are well thought out, you need to prepare the public opinion and make a strong case. You need to be seen in a strong position to defend your rights. Otherwise, in hybrid regimes the biggest danger is to be in the right but be in a weak position. This is how CHP is being portrayed. But this is not a CHP issue alone. What is important is to agree on some common principles and act in a united way. This is not hard. The rule of law and fair elections can be this common ground.

AKP’s success has worn off

AKP has lost votes for the first time in its history in the big cities. Some people see this as “AKP entering a period of regression”.

This is bad news for AKP and good news for the opposition. Big towns represent change. AKP’s rise to power was a result of it representing the new and the change. This had two bases: one was to represent the people against the elite and the status quo, and the other was its claim to represent what was national. This was successful up until 2011 but now has worn off as this political movement began to represent the status quo, power and privilege. This is a big potential for the opposition to delve into, as now they could be the one who represent change.

It is true that AKP has gone into a period of regression; its votes are decreasing. But this doesn’t mean that it would reflect in change of political power as this is not a political system with equal rights of competition in the real sense of the word. Even those who voted ‘no’ were in the belief that AKP would find a way to win anyway and nothing would change.

So, people need to believe that political power could change hands…

Yes. The belief “They would find a way to win” is inherent in authoritarian regimes, and this is very dangerous. The way to overcome this requires overcoming polarisation. Therefore, building bridges is very important, especially with those sections supporting the government for this or that reason.

The ‘no’ bloc needs to open up to the countryside and try to understand them better. People in big cities are relatively free to express their thoughts in elections. But in small places, especially in Kurdish regions casting a ‘no’ vote brings dire consequences. Therefore, the ‘yes’ vote in Anatolia should not be assessed with prejudice. People in the country need to believe in the possibility of change so they can vote for it. This trust need to be established with them.

What are the main characteristics of the referendum results?

Firstly, there is a huge number of people who gather around President Erdogan, who still trust him and can be mobilised by him. Secondly, the referendum campaign was an asymmetric one. For those who voted ‘yes’ the AKP and the Erdogan element was in the fore, while those who voted ‘no’ did so to protect democracy and because they opposed the presidential system. This is where the asymmetry is. The ‘yes’ people were for a strong state, a people’s state, a big Turkey and for trust in the leader. Now the ‘no’ side should be the guardian of this. For example, AKP promised safeguards for the criticisms of the opposition regarding the scrutiny over the president, a functional parliament, an independent judiciary, etc. Now the ‘no’ bloc could say to those who voted ‘yes’ to lend support to their bloc for the materialisation of these promises.

The 48.6% vote didn’t suffice to stop the presidential system but the ‘no’ bloc is not demoralised. Why?

Because this result was achieved despite all unequal conditions and the state of emergency. Therefore, the 48.6 percent result didn’t cause any feeling of defeat. And there is a case of self confidence of being in the right. This needs to be maintained. This campaign helped overcome some fears and prejudice. Many people who couldn’t dream of talking to each other talked and worked together.

The greatest danger today is to adopt a language of division. If the ‘no’ bloc see the other side as a monolithic group and use a divisive rhetoric they would upset the apple cart. Because the ‘no’ bloc owes its success to its calm and to not using an offensive language. If they maintain this they will continue to win.

The democracy bloc should also be able to set an alternative and be a ray of hope to the Kurdish people. For a peaceful solution to Kurdish question the Turkish side, especially its political elites need to discuss and internalise many things. 2019 may not be a realistic target for that but for this bloc to create an alternative to the presidential system it needs to come up with pledges to get the support of the Kurds.

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(Fatih Polat, Evrensel, 19.4.17)

Due to its extremely oppressive atmosphere, the very public vote rigging and the unravelling political picture in its aftermath, the referendum of 16 April 2017 has been the most controversial vote in Turkish political history.

High Election Council’s (YSK) decision to accept unsealed envelopes and ballots while voting still continued – in direct contradiction with its own directive – was akin to changing the rules during the game. YSK stubbornly stands behind this unacceptable contradiction despite all objections. This behaviour bears witness to the fact that the Referendum of 16 April has been arbitrarily concluded by dominant political power relations.


Sadi Güven, the chair of YSK, stated that unsealed envelopes were accepted in an attempt to prevemt procedural mistakes by local ballot commissions – legally obliged to stamp envelopes and ballot papers – obstruct the constitutional rights of the electorate.

However, in this referendum, unstamped votes cast abroad have been declared void. The relevant decision is stated as “the objection to procedures at Voting Station 472 during the count of votes from abroad, lodged to AKP representative by Muhammed Bilal Haliloğlu, dated 16/04/2017 has been considered.”


“It is understood that Mr Haliloğlu’s petition stated “some ballot boxes at Voting Station 472 included unstamped envelopes and these votes were deemed void without opening. Kindly take the necessary action regarding opening of the envelopes.”

Article 98 of Key Voting Provisions and Voter Register Law 298 states that “Envelopes that do not fit the colour and design of those issued by the ballot commission; those without local voting commission and ballot commissions stamps; those completely ripped; those with any stamp, signature, finger print or markings other than that of the local voting commission and ballot commission stamps are void.” The same issue has been addressed by article 44 of mandate number 202/1 attached to decision number 103 by the YSK, dated 15/02/2017.”

Based on these reasons the decision taken on 17/04/2017 states that “the objectors demand that the envelopes unopened due to missing stamps be opened has been rejected.”

We should also remember that in Güroymak in 2014, the ballot had been cancelled by YSK due to a single unstamped envelope.

In its press conference on the referendum, Limited Election Observation Mission by Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have highlighted that the YSK decision is illegal.

Consequently, the claim by Kemal Özkiraz, the owner of Avrasya Public Opinion Research Centre (AKAM), that “the information I got from parties and ballot observers is that all of the unstamped vote have been ‘YES’ votes. This cannot be explained by a coincidence.” gains undeniable importance.


The results cannot be ignored when the votes secured by AKP and MHP – the parties that proposed the change in Presidency voted on in the referendum – in the general elections of 1 November 2015 and the Referendum of 16 April are compared.

Firstly, President Erdoğan’s statement that “The rider has already gone past Üsküdar” [a Turkish proverb], based only on the unofficial Anatolian Agency [news outlet] data on the results, is ironic in terms of the stage he chose. In Sarıyer, where he made his speech, 59.13% voted for ‘No’. In Üsküdar, AKP(47.9%) and MHP(9.5%) got a total of 57.4% of the vote in 2015 but in the referendum 53.31% voted ‘NO’.

The city where Erdoğan made his speech is the metropolitan where the main fight against the attempted coup of 15 July – the event he primarily used to justify this referendum both in terms of its timing and historical significance – took place; but also, the city that Erdoğan lost in for the first time since the local elections of 1994; when he first became its Mayor.

Erdoğan also lost both in the neighbourhood of his Palace and the city it is in; Ankara. The national result is a highly disputable due to the continuing state of emergency (OHAL) but also the open breach of rules by the YSK. Despite all of this, standing on such a ground, thanking for “the support” one is given is significant.

In Ankara AKP (48.8%) and MHP (14.2%) got a total of 63% of the votes in the election of 1 November; in the referendum only 48.85% voted Yes. This is a drop of 14.15% which could not be ignored.

Likewise in Istanbul, while AKP (48.7%) and MHP (8.6%) got a total of 57.3% in the elections of 1 November, the No vote was 51.35% in the referendum; this indicates a drop of 8.65% for the ‘Yes’ vote

In the stronghold of MHP, Osmaniye, while AKP (46.8%) and MHP (34.6%) got a total of 81.4% in the elections of 1 November, the ‘Yes’ vote was 57.84%; indicating a very significant difference of 23.56%.

Evrensel had tried to accurately feel the pulse of the referendum. Our reporter Halil İmrek had been to Osmaniye and his article in the Evrensel on 9 March 2017 titled ‘the MHP stronghold of Osmaniye is distancing itself from Bahçeli’ foretold these results.

One of surprises in this referendum has been Eyüp; an area where AKP held the local authority for a long while and is frequently visited by President Erdoğan. While AKP (49.3%) and MHP (8.6%) got a total of 57.6% in the elections of 1 November, the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Eyüp was 48.46%%; a drop of 9.44%.

The differences in Fatih should also be noted. In the elections on 1 November. AKP (52.2%) and MHP (8.1%) got a total of 60.3% of the vote; the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Fatih was 51.38. The ‘Yes” campaign suffered a drop of 8.92% in this predominantly conservative area.

We also see a big difference when we compare the results in Soma; the town where 301 miners lost their lives in an accident – read murder – in a mine. In Soma in the elections of 1 November AKP (49.7%) and MHP (15.9%) got a total of 55.6% of the vote, the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Soma was 53.1%; a drop of 12.5 for the ‘Yes’ coalition.

The results in Kayseri are also interesting. In this city AKP (65.6%) and MHP (18.4%) got a total of 84% of the votes in the elections of 1 November, the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Kayseri was 67.76%; the ‘Yes’ coalition lost 16.24% of its votes in this city.

In Erzurum, a city of great support for the government, AKP (68.1%) and MHP (14.3%) got a total of 82.4% in the elections of 1 November, the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Erzurum was 74.48%; a drop of 7.48%.

Some might think this result is due to Fethullah Gülen being from there, but Erzurum is a city where the recently deceased Mehmed Kırkıncı, an important name in the Nur Sect, is considered a ‘leader of opinion’ and he had decided to side with AKP in the elections of 1 November. It seems healthier to read the vote realignment in Erzurum as the reaction by some sectors of AKP and MHP grassroots in this city to the imposition of this referendum.

In Rize in the elections of 1 November, AKP (75.9%) and MHP (5.4%) got a total of 81.3% of the vote, the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in Erzurum was 75.55%. It was argued that Saadet Party voters in Rize that voted for AKP in 1 November elections would not do so in the referendum. This could have contributed to the 5.75% drop.


Throughout the referendum campaign the ‘No’ front argued that politics of polarisation only helped AKP; and that a positive, explanatory campaign should be run to win over those intending to vote ‘Yes’. I think this has had as much impact on the results as the split in MHP and the limited fracturing within the AKP.

We still cannot ignore the fact that a strong ‘personal cult’ tendency towards Erdoğan among the grassroots AKP supporters still exists. While opposing the dubious results of the Referendum, we should refrain from identifying them with fixed political identities such as AKP, MHP supporters. We should approach people with their real identities as workers, labourers, teachers, doctors, academicians; it is important to use a language for change when addressing those that voted for a different party in the past. For those that said No to ‘one man’, the only option for the future is patient, correct politics.

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The referendum and its results are not legitimate!

(Mustafa Yalciner, Evrensel, 18.4.17)

Scarcely 51.4% of ‘yes’ vote has been reached! 48.6% said “no.”

All the big cities, the industrial regions, with the exception of the city of Bursa and Kocaeli, declared “No, We Will Not Accept a One Man Dictatorship.”

Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Diyarbakir… have all said its not possible but the ‘lads’ are saying, “of course it is, Turkey has won.” As if Istanbul is a city in Patagonia; the city where AKP has the majority! Add to this mix Bahceli’s MHP the majority is less then half. Across Turkey there is a 10 per cent decline in AKP and MHP votes. Apparently “Turkey has won!” What a victory!

When the state contraption has exclusively worked for the “yes” vote… when not only the gentlemens’ aeroplanes, official cars but also the whole of the “yes” campaign is sponsored from by the Treasury… When almost all newspaper and TV stations are confiscated through sackings and threats; mainstream TV and other remaining stations, with the exception of one or two, had campaigned 100 % for the “yes” vote. Under circumstances of complete disregard for equality or impartiality.

Under the circumstances of brute force of the state was put in action when the power of money was not enough. While the positions of governors and district governors could not be told apart from provincial chairman and district heads of the AKP the “No” campaigners had their rallies and meetings banned, could not find halls meetings… When every which way you look nothing but “yes” banners adorned cities, the “no” campaigners’ banners could not be seen anywhere; either not allowed to go up or quickly pulled down.

When polling clerks of opponent parties such as HDP and CHP were taken off committees for not being “reputable individuals”…  When the opposition witnesses at the polling station were expelled from duty. When, from the outset, the state either did not take ballot boxes to some areas, especially to those in the south-east, or placed them in areas that were unaccessible for the majority… Despite clear legal regulation, just like two months prior to the referendum, armed soldiers or police guarded polling stations.  In a series of villages the village guards and chiefs openly stamped “yes” in batches of 20-30 ballot papers at a time. Polling clerks have stamped unstamped ballot papers with official seal after the ballet boxes were opened.

And millions of unstamped envelops! Despite clear legal regulations and old Supreme Election Committee’s (SEC) decisions these votes were counted as valid. It is not even a controversy; the vote count was openly swindled. SEC later announced, if the ballot envelopes could not be proven to have been brought from outside “these sort of things do happen!” Gentlemen, you were supposed to have had the envelopes ready at the ballot boxes. If you haven’t, then unstamped envelopes are invalid. You cannot count them as valid; imposition does not make it valid. You want it to be accepted by force? The name for this kind of force is obvious! It is what you called Germany and Holland for not allowing you to hold referendum meetings in their countries in order to guard the safety of their citizens.

Apparently the “paper used for envelops are distinct” and are “watermarked”… and apparently  “voters right cannot be prevented because the ballot council has forgotten to stamp the envelopes.”  Get over it! Wouldn’t the devil look after his own!

Despite the unequal race, the power of money and oppression and the envelopes kept at bay the margin was still so small!

It is said that the number of unstamped envelopes are about 2.5 million, this figure does not include those stamped by polling clerks after balled boxes were opened. 2.5 million roughly equates to 5 per cent; 1.5 million is roughly 3 per cent! The difference between “yes” and “no” is a little over one million; this is about 1.5 per cent!

No! This referendum and its results are not legitimate. “One party and One Man” authority is a blatant imposition on the people! It cannot be accepted!

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Erdogan and the AKP government claim victory in rigged referendum

Approximately 50 million voters headed over to the ballot boxes on 16 April to vote on the referendum for constitutional changes in Turkey.

The public were presented with manipulated figures, purporting to show a victory for the Yes vote, equivalent to 51.4% ‘yes’ and 48.6% ‘no’. All big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Antalya and Diyarbakir voted against the constitutional changes.

Even so, while approximately 1 million votes were disregarded as unacceptable, 2.5 million ballot papers without official stamps were counted as legitimate. It clearly states in the election laws that ballot papers that are not stamped must not be accepted. This decision, which was approved by the Supreme Election Council (YSK), is being used to turn over the results with a ‘done and dusted’ attitude.

The will of the public is trampled on

In spite of referendum result showing a “No” majority in the referendum and the discovery of unsealed ballot papers in the ballot boxes, efforts are being made to announce an official “yes” victory. The two leaders of the main parties (AKP and MHP) who campaigned for a “yes” vote, made announcements thanking the nation whilst, ignoring the criticisms of numerous breaches of due process and concealing the fact that the “no” campaign won the referendum vote.

Despite the fact that the new constitutional changes have been rejected by the voters, the will of the public is trampled on and through cheating and lies a dictatorship is being imposed.

The AKP and Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to enforce the questionable results of the referendum in favour of the yes vote have resulted in mass protests in big cities and across the country. The main oppositional parties, CHP and HDP are calling for a revocation of the referendum result, which it says is the only way to settle the questionable status of the referendum.

OSCE critical of the referendum

The referendum was held under state of emergency and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkey is a member, stated that the conditions for the vote did not appear “fair”, and that the Supreme Electoral Council did not act in a transparent way.

We will not be silent

We therefore call upon all democratic forces of Britain to support the struggle of the people in Turkey against the undemocratic measures.

We call on Theresa May to refuse to recognise the outcome of the referendum, suspend all arms sales and pressure other bodies to do likewise. We urge the government to send a delegation of MPs to visit the country as a matter of urgency and meet the opposition and hear their voice. The government should strongly condemn the jailing of MPs, journalists and the lack of freedom of press, free speech and attacks on the opposition.

Finally, we urge you to inform the public, pressurise the UK government to take a stand on the basis of the concerns highlighted by OSCE and international observers.

Please send letters of protest to the Supreme Election Council of Turkey for its decision to validate illegally the 2.5 million votes cast without the official stamp to ensure a “yes” result is achieved.

Please email and / or tweet /  @ysecimkurulu

Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT)

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Not even a Pyrrhic victory!

Ihsan Caralan (Evrensel, 17.4.17)

The referendum for a constitutional amendment that will take Turkey to a “one party, one man regime” was held last Sunday.

Initial reports show a 51.4 “yes” and 48.6 “no” vote. Both the close results and the fact that the two big parties of the “no” camp, People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), raising their objections to the irregularities of the referendum is a sign that the controversy surrounding the referendum will be on the political agenda in the coming days, if not months.

Under normal circumstances 50 per cent +1 would technically be considered to have won in a referendum on something that would not change the regime of the country. However, the constitutional amendment voted on recently is not an ordinary thing as it brings substantial changes to the regime. Therefore, a 51 per cent “yes” vote cannot unify a divided people or be considered “legitimate”, especially if there is extensive suspicion around the results.

Moreover, this constitutional amendment

  1. Was brought to the parliament disregarding its rules on many of the opposition’s rights and the procedures for secret voting, with use of brute force by the ruling AKP and the nationalist MHP representatives, and when the parliament’s third biggest pro-Kurdish HDP party is practically excluded from parliamentary activities, and its 13 MPs, including the co-leaders, are in prison.
  2. During the referendum campaign the “yes” camp

* mobilised and used everything at their disposal, including the state owned transport vehicles;

* used the state of emergency, government decrees and the anti-terror law to terrorise the political climate and intimidate the “no” camp;

* mobilised governors, prosecutors, local governments and security forces to ban the “no” rallies;

* used even the mafia related gangs and civil militia in addition to the security forces to intimidate the “no” vote;

* stigmatised the “no” camp by identifying it with the “coup” supporters and the so-called “Fethullah Gulen Terror Organisation – or FETO for short”, named after the self-exiled cleric who is said to be behind the failed coup;

* manipulated all nationalist, religious, moral and cultural values for their black propaganda;

* and dominated the whole referendum process in an unlawful and unjust way, knowing no limits in exploiting even the most sensitive domestic and foreign policy issues.

Despite all repression and obstruction, with a 51.4 percent “yes” and a 48.6 percent “no” vote the referendum result appears to be on a knife-edge.

Another important point is that the biggest cities of Turkey –Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Adana and Antalya – have scored a “no” vote. This is a sign that AKP is losing support in big cities.

Therefore, we can say that this referendum will

* pave the way to developments that will deteriorate the problems with regards to Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy;

* open the legitimacy of the referendum and of the constitutional amendments;

* and not even be a Pyrrhic victory with this “yes” vote.

The realities of the referendum indicates significant possibilities for the “no” camp, for Turkey’s progressive democratic forces and the working class party in the short term, as well as for political restructuring in Turkey and the advancement of the positions of the working class.

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Finding of the international observers. 

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 international observers concluded in a statement released today. While the technical aspects of the process were well administered, voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and limitations on fundamental freedoms had a negative effect, the statement says.

“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,” said Cezar Florin Preda, Head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. “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.”

“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 ODIHR limited election observation mission.  “Our monitoring showed the ‘Yes’ campaign dominated the media coverage and this, along with restrictions on the media, the arrests of journalists and the closure of media outlets, reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views.”

Although the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE) adopted regulations and instructions to address some aspects of the process, the legal framework, which is focused on elections, remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum, the observers said. Provincial governors used state-of-emergency powers to further restrict the freedom of assembly and expression.

“A state of emergency should never be used to undermine the rule of law,” Preda said.

The legal framework for the referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media, and gives preference to the ruling party and the president in the allocation of free airtime, while the SBE’s authority to sanction for biased coverage was repealed, the statement says.

The law limits full participation in the referendum to eligible political parties and does not regulate the involvement of other stakeholders, the statement says. Further, the SBE decided that civil society organizations and professional associations were not permitted to hold campaign events.

“The campaign framework was restrictive and the campaign imbalanced due to the active involvement of several leading national officials, as well as many local public officials, in the ‘Yes’ campaign,” de Zulueta said. “We observed the misuse of state resources, as well as the obstruction of ‘No’ campaign events. The campaign rhetoric was tarnished by some senior officials equating ‘No’ supporters with terrorist sympathizers, and in numerous cases ‘No’ supporters faced police interventions and violent scuffles at their events.”

Referendum day proceeded in an orderly and efficient manner in the limited number of polling stations visited by international observers. In some cases, access for ODIHR observers during the opening and voting in polling stations was either denied or limited. Police presence was widely reported both in and outside polling station and, in some cases, police were checking voters’ identification documents before granting access to the polls. The SBE issued instructions late in the day that significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.

For further information contact:

Thomas Rymer, ODIHR, +90 535 891 9998 or +48 609 522 266,

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We must stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey.

Steve Sweeney, SPOT Steering Committee member reports from Turkey on the aftermath of the referendum. 

I was part of the demonstrations in Besiktas last night where people were opposing the outcome of the referendum result. The result cannot be given any credibility and should not be legitimised.

Opposition CHP and HDP have announced they will challenge the outcome of the election.

The people of Turkey have accused president Erdogan of stealing their vote with reports of widespread corruption including 2.5 million contested votes counted as Yes, No votes going missing and AKP/Erdogan supporting AA news agency announcing results before ballot boxes had even left polling stations.

Erdogan would never have accepted defeat in the referendum. This was a long time in the planning. When the HDP election victory meant he could not command the majority needed to force the changes through parliament, he pushed through a law lifting immunity from prosecution for lawmakers and had 13 MPs thrown in jail.

It was only the failed coup last year which saw the ultra-nationalist/fascists of the MHP change their position to support the constitutional changes, however not all MPs or their supporters agreed.

The post-coup purges have seen opposition voices silenced. There is no freedom of the press, academics have been purged, journalists arrested, government workers sacked and everyone has become a suspect

In the south-east whole cities have been flattened with half a million people displaced. Many of those people cannot vote as they have no registered address due to their homes being destroyed and those that can are subject to military checkpoints, although many simply do not have the means to travel to vote. 

Independent observers were blocked from entering sensitive areas. 

Despite all of this, Erdogan could only muster 51% of the vote. It cannot under any circumstances be described as a free and fair election. 

I was stopped by the police at a polling station and they tried to take my phone from me and I have a serious suspicion that my laptop and social media have been hacked and tampered with and my internet access restricted.

But the people of Turkey are not accepting the result. A series of demonstrations spread across many districts in Istanbul last night and I expect will continue today as international bodies say they will assess the allegations of fraud and corruption.

However these same bodies have been responsible for giving Erdogan the free hand he needed to terrorise his own people. Who have offered mild rebukes which he has seen fit to ignore as they refuse to consider any serious response to what elsewhere would be described as war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The pots and pans heard across Istanbul last night stood as a reminder of the spirit of Gezi. It is to these people that the new Turkey belongs and the fight will continue.

We must stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey.

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SCF: Legitimacy Of Rigged Referendum’s Result In Turkey Widely Questioned By Turks, EU And US

Stockholm Centre for Freedom expressed concerns to do with the referendum election held in Turkey.                                                     As opposition groups have taken the streets of many Turkish cities to protest allegedly rigged referendum results, both the European Union (EU) and the US officials have refrained to comment over the announced voting results until seeing the OSCE findings.

The international observers monitoring the constitutional referendum in Turkey will present their preliminary post-referendum statement at a news conference on Monday in Ankara. The mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The statement will be delivered by Cezar Florin Preda, Head of the PACE delegation, and Tana de Zulueta, Head of the ODIHR Limited Referendum Observation Mission. The International Observation Mission comprises 63 observers from 26 countries, including 40 long-term observers and experts deployed by OSCE/ODIHR and 23 parliamentarians and staff from PACE.

Stefan Schennach, an Austrian member of a PACE team sent to Turkey to observe a referendum, has said on Sunday that the referendum on a constitutional amendment package to bring an executive presidency to the country was neither free nor fair.

“[A]fter our mission in Diyarbakir + Mardin we got deeply worried, referendum was neither fair nor free: police blocked 2x observation,” Schennach said in a Twitter message posted following the referendum.

PACE announced last Monday that it would send a 20-member delegation to Turkey to observe the conduct of the referendum on constitutional amendments, alongside observers from the OSCE/ODIHR. In January, the PACE Monitoring Committee expressed concern in a statement about the content of the proposed constitutional reforms and the conditions under which a referendum would be held in Turkey.

Limited Referendum Observation Mission of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR LROM) had stated in their interim report on April 7 that supporters of the ‘No’ campaign in Turkey faced campaign bans, police interventions, and violent scuffles at their events. According to interim report released by OSCE/ODIHR LROM over Turkey’s constitutional referendum, “the campaign is characterized by polarization and some restrictions.”

Meanwhile, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement on Sunday and stated that “We take note of the reported results of the referendum in Turkey on the amendments to the Constitution, adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 21 January 2017.  We are awaiting the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission, also with regard to alleged irregularities.”

The statement has continued: “The constitutional amendments, and especially their practical implementation, will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations as a EU candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe. We encourage Turkey to address the Council of Europe’s concerns and recommendations, including with regards to the State of Emergency. In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation.”

 US State Department Spokesperson has also refrained to make any comment on referendum before seeing the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR International Observation Mission. The Spokesperson sent a statement to Washington Hattı news portal when asked whether they have any comment over the results of the elections results, and stated that “We are, of course, following the referendum voting outcome in Turkey. We will refrain from commenting until the results have been confirmed and OSCE/ODIHR has reported on its initial findings.”

Despite both Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, together with Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the head of Supreme Board of Election (YSK) have announced that “yes” vote won the majority in the referendum, allegations on the widespread and systematic election frauds have marked and overshadowed the historic voting.

Over 55 million Turkish citizens voted across the country on Sunday in a historic referendum proposing constitutional changes. Citizens cast their ballots at 167,000 polling stations nationwide. Over 1 million of them were first-time voters who recently turned 18.

As irregularities with regards to procedures during the polling for a historic referendum were revealed opposition groups reacted. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has said it will object to the referendum results on grounds that the vote for the constitutional amendment were manipulated in terms of content and method, a party senior has said.

“Since the morning there has been a serious chaos all over Turkey. The Supreme Board of Elections [YSK] has declared that the board will deem voting papers without official seals as valid. They cancelled voting papers without seals in the ballots abroad. It was the same board that did this,” CHP deputy leader Erdal Aksünger said. He also stated that the opposition party will make necessary appeals to object.

“In eastern and southeastern cities, the election observers from the ‘no’ groups were removed from their ballots. There were many violations in terms of the form of the elections. There were people who voted outside booths, violating the secret ballot rule. There were people who went to the ballot boxes with their village governors; these are all violations,” he added.

The YSK, however, stated on its website that unless there was no proof that ballot papers and envelopes were brought from outside, they will be accepted as valid.

Pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has also announced that the party will object to the results. “Irrespective of the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ victory, we will object to two thirds of the ballots. The information we have received indicates a 3 to 4 percent manipulation,” the HDP announced through their official Twitter account on late April 16.

Former Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lawmaker Meral Akşener, who renegaded from her party months ahead of the vote to campaign for the “No” vote, also criticized the YSK decisions.

“About the voting papers without the YSK seals; it is a scandal! It is a scandal that the YSK has announced that they will deem it valid. Two of our lawmaker friends are making the necessary appeals,” Akşener said in a televised interview on private broadcaster Fox TV late April 16.

Akşener also stated that the state-run agency’s results indicated a manipulation. “According to the official results received by the YSK, the ‘No’ votes lead by 52 percent,” she added. “On the other hand, the information we have received from YSK indicates that the entire results were not registered by the YSK yet. Anadolu Agency is making the manipulation,” she said.

While chair of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, called on his party to hold an emergency meeting, in many cities people have gathered on streets and rallied to protest rigged and manipulated referendum results.  CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu has said that his party would object to the results of Sunday’s referendum on the grounds that the vote for the constitutional amendments was manipulated by the YSK in terms of content and method. 

“Due to YSK interference, the referendum results have become questionable. Now, I am asking: Why would you make such a decision? Rules cannot be changed in the middle of the game. The YSK literally cast a shadow over the decision made by this nation. We will be checking this closely,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Hours before the unofficial results were announced late on Sunday night the YSK declared that the board would deem voting papers without official seals to be valid. The board also declared on its website that unless there was proof that ballot papers and envelopes were brought from outside the polling place, they would be accepted as valid. The announcement reportedly came after a board meeting following a high number of complaints regarding unsealed ballot papers.

Citizens of Turkey cast their votes on Sunday in a historic referendum on whether to switch the system of governance to an executive presidency amid reports of alleged voter fraud across the country. The state-run Anadolu news agency said 99.9 percent of the votes had been counted, leading to a “yes” win with a 51.23 percent majority.

Meanwhile, President Erdoğan on Sunday said he would immediately discuss reinstating the death penalty with the government and the opposition while addressing a crowd celebrating the results of a Sunday referendum in front of Huber Palace in the Sarıyer district of İstanbul.

“I will say ‘I have always encountered this in the field.’ (MHP leader) Bahçeli already said, ‘I will support it’ and (Prime Minister) Yıldırım likewise. But [Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal ] Kılıçdaroğlu also said he would support it. If he really supports it and it comes to me, I will approve it. Otherwise what will we do? We will have another referendum on that, too,” Erdoğan added.

The issue of reinstating capital punishment in Turkey has strained ties with the European Union after Erdoğan and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suggested its reintroduction following a failed coup attempt last summer.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on March 19 that reinstatement of capital punishment in Turkey would “lead to the end of negotiations” with Ankara for its membership in the EU.

“Executing the death penalty is incompatible with membership of the Council of Europe,” said Daniel Holtgen, director of communications at the Council of Europe and spokesperson for Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland, in reaction to the Turkish government plan to introduce the death penalty.

Responding to criticism from the EU, Erdoğan said during a rally in Antalya on March 25: “They say that if the death penalty is reinstated, Turkey will not have a place in Europe. We do not need that place.”

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as a part of reforms to facilitate Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although the death penalty has not been used since 1984. (SCF with April 17, 2017

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We will continue our struggle!

Press release and public announcement on the outcome of the referendum in Turkey

We will continue our struggle against the shady referendum outcome and one-man rule!

This was a referendum held under a state of emergency and oppressive policies.

This was a campaign full of inequalities and injustices.

As if this was not enough, the Supreme Electoral Council made a scandalous decision and breached its own rules.  

The facts speak for itself. We face a shady and illegitimate referendum result.

President Erdogan, along with his government and owners of capital who stand behind him, will work hard to enforce the illegitimate referendum outcome upon the people. 
The people have not consented to the “One-man one-party dictatorship” rule, but (the ruling government and president) they will try and take advantage of the current situation.

Despite all this (unequal election campaign and breaches), people have made their views clear and said No.

We will continue our struggle against the shady referendum outcome and “one-man rule”.

Selma Gurkan

General Secretary, Labour Party of Turkey

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Why Should We Support The “No” Vote In Turkey’s April Referendum?

As you know tomorrow is a hugely significant day for Turkey, where citizens are being asked to make a significant decision about the future of their country. The people of Turkey will tomorrow vote on a new constitution which, if passed, will result in the granting of ultimate executive powers to the President and will create a totalitarian regime.

There is no doubt that the effects of an increasingly undemocratic, indeed dictatorial regime in Turkey will have far reaching consequences for equality and human rights – not just for those living in Turkey but also for peace and democracy across the Middle East and Europe.

Citizens of Turkey living in Britain had the opportunity to exercise their voting rights in London last week, between 6 and 9 April. 43 thousand people exercised that right out of a total of approx. 90 thousand and a strong No vote is expected in Britain.

Electorates living in Turkey will have their say tomorrow and the opinion polls suggests that a No vote is likely. However, the supporters of the yes campaign are both the referees and presiding officers at this referendum. There is concern that the lack of checks and balances mean that results could be manipulated. Therefore, a large majority is necessary at the ballot box for the No side to be sure of a victory.

As SPOT we have campaigned in favour of the No vote because we believe in peace, democracy and better working conditions for all in Turkey.

Many thanks to Jamie Grant and our young friends who have produced an introductory video on the referendum, which can be viewed here:

We will continue our efforts and hope that tomorrow’s poll will be the beginning of a brighter and more democratic future for Turkey.

Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT)

Follow us on, @spotturkey

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