Turkey’s 14 May presidential and parliamentary elections were “competitive but still limited” according to international observers from Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe (CoE).
Observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) released a statement on Monday outlining their observations on Sunday’s elections in Turkey.
While the elections were praised for offering voters a choice between genuine political alternatives and high turnout, the current president and the ruling parties, namely the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), enjoyed an unjustified advantage due to continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, said Michael Georg Link, Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission.
“These were competitive but still limited elections, as the criminalisation of some political forces, including the detention of several opposition politicians, prevented full political pluralism and impeded individuals’ rights to run in the elections,” Link said. “Political interference in the electoral process is not in line with Turkey’s international commitments.”
Frank Schwabe, head of the PACE delegation, said that the country fell short of creating fair election campaign conditions. “Key political and social figures are in prison even after judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, media freedom is severely restricted and there is a climate of self-censorship,” he said. “Turkey does not fulfil the basic principles for holding a democratic election.”
The joint observation mission, which included a total of 401 observers from 40 countries, found that the legal framework in Turkey did not fully provide a basis for holding democratic elections. Voting day was mostly peaceful and smooth, although there were concerns over transparency and communication in the work of the election administration, as well as its independence.
While the campaign was largely peaceful and competitive, it was highly polarised and often negative and inflammatory in tone, and there were numerous cases of officials campaigning during the inaugurations of large-scale infrastructure projects. The misuse of public resources in some cases as well as announcements of significant social benefit programs provided undue advantage to those in power, and blurred the line between party and state.
The freedom of expression and the media, although protected by the constitution, were limited by a number of laws. The recent criminalisation of disseminating false information, the fact that websites are frequently blocked and online content removed, and the ongoing arrests and prosecutions of journalists further weakened freedom of expression.
“Voters had a genuine choice to make on election day, and the high turnout was a good illustration of the democratic spirit of the people of Turkey,” said Ambassador Jan Petersen, who heads the ODIHR election observation mission. “However, I regret to note that the election administration’s work was lacking in transparency, as well as the overwhelming bias of the public media and the limitations to freedom of speech.”