A six-member(*) cross-party delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was in Ankara on 5 and 6 May 2015, at the invitation of the Turkish delegation to PACE, for a pre-electoral visit ahead of the 7 June 2015 parliamentary elections.
It met with leaders and representatives of the main political parties running for the elections, members of the diplomatic corps in Ankara, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, members of the Turkish delegation to PACE, the Chairman of the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE), representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the President and members of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTSC), representatives of civil society and the media.
The delegation considers that the parliamentary elections of 7 June will be a crucial moment for political life in Turkey. Citizens will have a genuine choice of political options, which include the proposal of the ruling party to change the constitution and switch to a presidential system. Whether the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will pass the 10 per cent electoral threshold is one of the key issues of these elections, which appear to be highly competitive.
Interlocutors from the ruling party pointed out improvements made to the electoral system in recent years, for example by loosening the conditions of participation of political parties in elections and by allowing the use of languages other than Turkish in election campaigns.
The delegation notes with satisfaction that the conditions allowing Turks living abroad to vote in 47 foreign countries have improved and should ensure easier access to polling stations. However, the surveillance of the 24-day storage of ballot papers and the security of their transportation back to Turkey for counting still raised some concerns. The delegation calls on the authorities to ensure that electoral boards abroad have a composition similar to those within Turkey. Moreover, it expressed to the President of the SBE its readiness to observe the elections abroad.
The delegation regretts that the high electoral threshold of 10 per cent has still not been lowered, despite repeated recommendations from the Parliamentary Assembly and from the Venice Commission. It remains a major obstacle for political parties to enter parliament, and could have an impact on the representativity of the new Parliament, as a marginal difference of votes could lead to a serious discrepancy between the electorate’s will and the composition of the Grand National Assembly.
Serious concerns had been expressed by the interlocutors met over the involvement of the President of the Republic of Turkey in the pre-electoral campaign, despite a clear constitutional provision that he remains without bias while in office. Moreover, the possible misuse of administrative resources this year mentioned by some interlocutors - and repeatedly criticised by the Assembly in the past - seems to be once again an issue in these elections, as well as insufficient transparency in political party funding and campaign financing, according to some interlocutors. The delegation recalls that, according to the Turkish legal framework and to Council of Europe standards, equal conditions should be guaranteed to all participants in the elections.
The delegation recalls that all broadcasters, including the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), are required to ensure impartial and equal media coverage of the campaign (political advertising and allocation of airtime). Voters have the right to be properly informed and any restriction on media freedom (self-censorship, economic and legal pressure on journalists) can only restrict the access to free and complete information. Interlocutors reported on the very strong links between media owners and political parties.
In this respect, the delegation learned from interlocutors that the efficiency and impartiality of the SBE and the RTSC, which are responsible for the good conduct of the elections, are subjects of discussion. It regrets that the shortcomings identified by PACE in this matter in the 2014 presidential elections remain unaddressed, in particular the unequal allocation of airtime to political parties, and the fact that the decisions of the SBE are final and cannot be challenged. It therefore expects the SBE to regulate efficiently and diligently any shortcomings and violations relating to access to media and equal airtime.
A number of representatives of political parties from the opposition and civil society expressed mistrust in the electoral process. These concerns relate to the transport of ballot boxes and the security and reliability of the final electronic tabulation, a process which is not open to observers. The delegation hopes that fears of electoral fraud will prove to be unjustified and that all necessary measures will be taken beforehand. In this context, observers of political parties in polling stations will have an essential role to play.
The delegation notes that serious incidents, targeting especially one political party, have already occurred. NGOs reported cases of hate speech during the election campaign. It therefore calls upon the authorities to ensure that political parties will be able to campaign freely and safely.
The delegation welcomes the moves taken by some political parties to increase the participation of women candidates in elections, as well as the inclusion of representatives of ethnic communities. Such an inclusive approach enables different cultural, linguistic and historical sensibilities to be accommodated.
The delegation reiterates its call for representatives of civil society to be granted accreditation to observe the elections, which would contribute to enhanced transparency of, and trust in, the election process. It also hopes that both national and international observers will be able to freely observe all steps of the electoral process (voting, counting, drafting and tabulation of the minutes).
A fully-fledged delegation of about 30 PACE observers will return to the country to observe the election of 7 June 2015.
(*) Members of the delegation:
Tiny Kox (Netherlands, UEL), head of the delegation
Melita Mulic (Croatia, SOC)
Volodymyr Ariev (Ukraine, EPP/CD)
Ingebjørg Godskesen (Norway, EC)
Alfred Heer (Switzerland, ALDE)
Josette Durrieu (France, SOC), PACE rapporteur for post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey