A pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Ankara to assess the election campaign and the preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in Türkiye on 14 May 2023.
During two days of meetings, the delegation met a wide range of interlocutors, including the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, presidential candidates or their representatives, representatives of political parties from different political affiliations, the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly, members of the Turkish delegation to PACE, members of the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) and of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTSC), as well as media and NGO representatives and members of the diplomatic corps.
The pre-electoral visit took place two months after the earthquake of 6 February 2023 that caused the loss of over 50 000 lives and severely damaged 11 provinces. In this context, many interlocutors referred to the limited number of displaced persons who had re-registered in their new place of residency and raised questions about the ability of many others to cast their vote in their place of origin.
This raised concerns about the logistical organisation of the elections in the areas affected by the earthquake (including the location of polling stations) and also the ability of parties to campaign under the state of emergency in place in these provinces. The Supreme Electoral Council assured the delegation that it would be in a position to assure the necessary logistical arrangements.
The presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May will take place in the year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Republic. The delegation acknowledges that these elections will provide a genuine political choice to Turkish voters, with four candidates running for the presidential election and 25 lists competing in the parliamentary elections: political parties and civil society organisations are ready for these elections and are highly committed to securing the integrity of the electoral process by appointing observers in a large number of polling stations, with a view to enhancing the transparency of, and voters’ confidence in the electoral process. Political parties also expect a high turnout, including first-time voters and women, categories that remain largely under-represented in political life.
The delegation noted that several political parties had expressed serious concerns about the fairness of the electoral process with respect to equal coverage in public media and a lack of fair rules governing the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, underscoring the fact that the latest electoral amendments do not in practice prevent the President from using administrative resources.
The delegation recalled the recommendations of the Venice Commission, as well as previous recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), relating to the funding of electoral campaigns and political parties, which have, so far, remained unaddressed.
In addition, the delegation was informed by some interlocutors about security concerns, including recent attacks on the offices of opposition parties that should be duly investigated on every occasion.
There were reports of restrictions on or disruption to the internet and the use of social media, which were regarded as seriously limiting the ability of politicians to campaign and as posing possible risks for disruption on election day. These added to restrictions on freedom of expression that have a chilling effect, especially on journalists. The recent Disinformation Law, which criminalises dissemination of so-called “fake news”, has added another layer of self-censorship that could further limit the space for democratic debate. The delegation was also informed about legal proceedings launched and sanctions applied by the Radio and Television Supreme Council against media for coverage of critical views, including those stemming from speeches by opposition leaders. The delegation recalled that equal media access to different political forces and candidates, access to pluralistic information and an impartial coverage of the campaign are fundamental preconditions to enable the electorate to make an informed choice.
A case is currently pending against the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at the Constitutional Court and the party risks being closed down before the elections. This on-going procedure has impacted the course of the elections, leading the second largest opposition party to decide not to run for the presidential elections, and to resort to joining forces with another party to compete in the parliamentary elections, thus preventing the HDP from appointing members to electoral boards. The delegation reiterates the position of the Assembly, adopted in October 2022, on the closure and calls on the Constitutional Court to examine this case in line with international standards. The delegation also expects the Turkish authorities to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights with respect to former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş as well as Osman Kavala.
The delegation noted that several parties questioned the impact of the amendments - without broad political consensus or consultation - to the electoral legislation in March 2022. The lowering of the electoral threshold from 10 to 7 per cent – a step welcomed by the Parliamentary Assembly – could, however, be mitigated by the new rules governing the allocation of seats within alliances. In addition, the replacement of the most senior judge chairing the provincial or district electoral board - by a judge chosen by lottery - continues to be a matter of concern for the opposition.
Several interlocutors also expressed their doubts about the transparency of the work of the Supreme Electoral Council, and its impartiality; they specifically referred to the procedure for appointing its members (senior judges of the highest courts), given the current composition of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, as well as to landmark decisions in recent elections (such as declaring unstamped ballots valid), which had generated uncertainty during the electoral process. Moreover, SEC decisions are final and cannot be challenged, contrary to previous recommendations made by PACE and the Venice Commission, among others. These factors have eroded trust in this institution.
The delegation noted that concerns expressed by several interlocutors corroborated the findings of the Parliamentary Assembly in its previous Resolution on the monitoring of Türkiye, confirming that the electoral environment remains challenging and difficult for opposition forces. The delegation calls on the Turkish authorities to make use of all means to alleviate the effects of polarisation, ensure that these elections are free, fair, transparent and in line with international standards, strengthen trust in the electoral system throughout the country and ensure that the will of the Turkish people will be duly reflected in the ballot box and afterwards: in this respect, the delegation took note of fears expressed by some interlocutors that the election results might be challenged, in which case this should be closely followed by the international community.
The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 42-member delegation to observe the presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May 2023.
Members of the pre-electoral delegation were:
Chairperson: Frank Schwabe (Germany, SOC)
Kęstutis Masiulis (Lithuania, EPP/CD)
Mireille Clapot (France, ALDE)
Lord Simon Russell (United Kingdom, EC/DA)
George Loucaides (Cyprus, UEL)
John Howell (United Kingdom), co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee