PACE team concerned about fairness in Turkish presidential election

A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has expressed concern about election fairness following talks it held recently in Ankara regarding the upcoming presidential election process.

The six-member PACE delegation was in Ankara from July 21-22 for a visit ahead of the presidential election on Aug. 10.

Five members of the PACE delegation, representing each of the political groups within PACE, along with a rapporteur of the assembly’s monitoring committee, held talks in the capital at the beginning of the week with journalists, NGOs and representatives of the three presidential candidates, among other parties, to assess the electoral framework and campaign.

During its visit the delegation also met with Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, joint presidential candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Yalcin Akdoğan, chief advisor to the prime minister, and Nazmi Gür, representative of Selahattin Demirtas, the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), about the election process. The delegation also had talks with the chairmen of the Supreme Election Board (YSK) and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

The delegation released a statement on Thursday on the PACE website, saying: “[The delegation] reiterates its concerns about the shortcomings in the regulations concerning campaign expenditure, misuse of administrative resources by one candidate and unbalanced media coverage.” Although welcoming a step taken to regulate funding of the election campaign, including limitations on individual donations, the delegation said in its statement that “it would be necessary to reinforce the legislation by introducing a ceiling for campaign expenditures to enable proper monitoring of the spending of the funds, and to ensure the same opportunities for all candidates.”

The delegation also drew attention to the weaknesses of the current monitoring mechanism of the election campaign accounts of presidential candidates, saying, “The legislation should be fine-tuned to clarify the role of political parties, the issue of in-kind contributions and personal resources of candidates.”

The fairness of the presidential election is overshadowed by the fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is running for president as the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has been conducting his campaign without resigning from office. Erdoğan’s candidacy is one of the issues dealt with in the PACE delegation’s statement. Although the statement said Erdoğan was not required by law to resign, the delegation expressed concern, saying the administrative means available to Erdoğan as prime minister would give him disproportionate access to resources and media coverage, in the absence of strict regulations. Use of administrative resources by candidates is normally forbidden in law.

“The issue of misuse of administrative resources was raised on several occasions during the meetings. The delegation therefore called upon the authorities to adopt clearer and stricter regulations related to the activities carried out by incumbent politicians standing in presidential elections,” the statement said.

Opposition parties have much criticized the presidential candidate of the ruling party for enjoying more airtime than the other candidates on the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT).

Unbalanced media coverage in favor of Erdoğan during the election campaign, for which he has also been much criticized by the opposition, is another point the PACE delegation drew attention to as a matter that needs to be actively taken care of.

Noting that all broadcasters, including the TRT, are required to ensure impartial and equal media coverage of the campaign, PACE’s statement continued: “The delegation regretted the lack of a timely response by state institutions to redress unbalanced media coverage during the campaign, which occurred despite the existing legal provisions. The delegation calls upon all stakeholders, in particular the RTÜK and the YSK, to be more efficient in applying the law and using the measures foreseen in the legislation, and to ensure equal airtime to all candidates.”

Election security was among the topics of the talks. The security of the votes that the almost 2.8 million Turkish citizens living abroad, who represent around 5 percent of the total electorate, are entitled to cast in the presidential election was also an issue the statement touched on. “[The delegation] calls upon the authorities to ensure smooth conduct of these elections, which will be carried out in 53 countries, and to provide the necessary guarantees to ensure that the ballot papers will be transported securely to Turkey for transparent counting,” it said.

The PACE delegation further revealed that it had concerns about the fairness of elections in Turkey, saying: “The introduction of a clear legal provision accrediting domestic and international observers during future elections would further increase the transparency of and confidence in the election process as a whole. Observers should be able to freely observe all steps of the electoral process (voting, counting, drafting and tabulation of the votes).”

A full delegation of 30 PACE observers will return to Turkey to observe the Aug. 10 election.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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