A seven-member(*) cross-party delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was in Ankara on 5 and 6 October 2015, at the invitation of the Turkish delegation to PACE, for a pre-electoral visit ahead of the early parliamentary elections on 1 November 2015.
The delegation notes that the early election campaign is being conducted in a dramatically changed environment, compared to the June 7 elections. These changes have been marked by: no single party majority in parliament and failed attempts to form a coalition, the suspension of the peace process, and the resumption of clashes between the Turkish Security Forces and the PKK. These developments have led to further polarization of, and tensions in the country.
The delegation welcomes the commitment expressed by all political parties to the holding of fair elections, and considers that voters will again be given a genuine choice. The delegation, however, expresses serious concern about the situation of the media. It was informed of instances of repeated intimidation, pressure and physical attacks against journalists and media groups, culminating in the mobbing of the Hürriyet offices on 6 and 8 September 2015, and the brutal assault of its columnist Ahmet Hakan on 1 October 2015.
The delegation was also informed of a sharp rise in prosecutions launched against critical voices, on charges of “defamation against the President” (Article 299 of the Criminal Code) or “terrorism”, as well as a number of restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the internet and social media. The delegation is concerned that this situation may hamper free democratic debate and freedom of expression.
Security concerns also dominated the discussions during the pre-electoral visit. The delegation condemns the politically-motivated violence observed in recent weeks, including the attacks, within two days, on 400 offices and workplaces of the HDP party, and some AKP premises. It was also informed that a number of HDP members, including Mayors, were arrested and detained in recent police operations, which raises concerns. The delegation calls on all political stakeholders to refrain from using, and take action against, verbal and physical violence, and to take a responsible stand in the election campaign to prevent any further escalation which would undermine democratic processes.
With the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE), the delegation also discussed possible measures to be taken to ensure the safety and security of all voters. Particular attention was given to the SBE’s recent decision not to allow the relocation of ballot boxes from unsafe districts. The delegation was informed that pressure might be exerted on voters in certain areas. The creation of a number of “special temporary security zones” and curfews in areas predominantly oriented towards voting for the HDP raises serious concerns that this situation might spread fear among voters. The authorities assured the delegation that all necessary steps would be taken to guarantee security conditions, especially in the east and south-east of Turkey, and to allow candidates to campaign, and citizens to cast their vote, free from fear. The delegation considers that the monitoring of elections by local and international observers in these disputed areas, if security conditions allow, will enhance the transparency of, and trust in, the election process.
Finally, the delegation recalls that a number of shortcomings identified during the observation of the June 2015 elections remain valid, such as the highly disproportionate coverage of different political parties in state-owned media; the lack of judicial review of SBE decisions; the lack of regulation of campaign and party funding; and the impossibility for domestic NGOs to be registered as observers. The active role of the President of the Republic in the campaign period, despite constitutional provisions requiring him to exercise his function in an unbiased manner, was also questioned. The delegation reiterates the call made by PACE to lower the 10 per cent threshold, which has an impact on the lack of representativity of the parliament.
The delegation expresses the hope that the elections will be fair and transparent, and allow for the expression of the will of the citizens. It also welcomes the readiness and the increasing capacity of a vibrant civil society to involve citizens in the monitoring of these elections and to play an active part in the electoral process.
During its visit to Ankara, the delegation met with leaders and representatives of the main political parties running in 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 and members 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), as well as representatives of civil society and the media.
A fully-fledged delegation of 32 PACE observers will return to the country to observe the 1 November 2015 early election.
(*) Members of the pre-electoral delegation:
Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), Head of the delegation
Volodymyr Ariev (Ukraine, EPP/CD)
Olena Sotnyk (Ukraine, ALDE)
Christopher Chope (United Kingdom, EC)
Nikolaj Villumsen (Denmark, UEL)
Ingebjorg Godskesen (Norway, EC) and Natăsa Vuckovic (Serbia, SOC), PACE co-rapporteurs for post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey