Turkey’s main opposition party and scores of voters have appealed to the election watchdog to annul the results of the critical referendum on constitutional change, that brought in a narrow win for the government. They have argued that unsealed ballot papers and envelopes were counted in open violation of the law.
“This referendum will be recalled as the ‘unsealed election.’ The only thing that needs to be done with regard to this referendum, which has lost its legitimacy, is its annulment,” deputy leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Bülent Tezcan, told reporters after he officially submitted a petition for the annulment to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on April 18.
The CHP petition cited a number of irregularities during both the voting and counting processes for the April 16 referendum, specifically underlining that the YSK’s decision to count unsealed ballot papers as valid increased suspicions of fraud.
After the voting results were published, a mission of observers from the 47-member Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said the referendum, which saw a 51 percent approval for the changes, was an uneven contest that took place in unfair conditions. They particularly noted the Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) controversial 11th hour decision to allow as valid ballots that did not bear official stamps, saying the decision undermined important safeguards against fraud.
“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” said Cezar Florin Preda, the head of the PACE delegation, on April 17.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately denounced the criticism, urging the OSCE to “know its place” and saying Turkey would disregard their politically motivated reports.
Regarding the alleged irregularities, the CHP also recalled that an amendment to the Election Law in 2010 stipulated that unsealed ballot papers were not valid, meaning that the Supreme Election Board (YSK) had flagrantly breached the law.
Tezcan also highlighted that the decision taken by the YSK during the voting process made it impossible to distinguish proper ballot papers from unsealed ones, increasing question marks over the referendum.
Along with the CHP, 700 citizens applied individually to the YSK for the annulment of the referendum, making a queue before the premises of the election watchdog.
The YSK did not comment on the CHP’s appeal for the annulment but President of the YSK Sadi Güven, had earlier defended their decision on the grounds that they had counted unsealed ballot papers in previous elections in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But he did not mention the amendment on the law in 2010.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu hit out at the YSK and judges who issued the controversial decision in his first parliamentary address after the referendum, accusing them of “manipulating the referendum results.”
“If you are making decisions in accordance with the political will that appointed you to that post, take those judicial robes of yours off and leave that institution,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, arguing that the referendum results did not reflect the national will.
“We cast a ballot with our conscience and our morals, and we said ‘no’ with more than 50 percent of the votes at the ballot box,” he said.
Similarly, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which also campaigned for the “no” side in the referendum, slammed the YSK and called the polls questionable.
HDP spokesperson and Şanlıurfa MP Osman Baydemir said the YSK refused to accept unstamped votes as valid in 2014 in the Güroymak district of the eastern province of Bitlis, thus paving way for the elections to be rerun.
“I’m making an open call from here. If you don’t adopt the same ‘invalidity’ decision that you made in 2014 for nearly 2.5 million votes [in the referendum], then you are not a referee, but a party,” Baydemir said at his party’s parliamentary group meeting in Ankara on April 18, adding that the local affiliate of the Democratic Regions Party (BDP) won in Güroymak in 2014 despite the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) objections.
The YSK decision to accept unstamped ballot papers “unless it can be proved that they were brought from outside the voting room” sparked a major debate on the results of the referendum, in which the “yes” campaign emerged as the winner with 51.4 percent of the votes. Describing the referendum results as “questionable,” Baydemir said the YSK’s acceptance of the unstamped ballot papers was a “blow to the elections.” During his speech, Baydemir also said the struggle for “no” was beginning once again.
However, the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the two main sponsors of the “yes” camp said the results announced by the YSK were legitimate and final and that the opposition should not try to cast a shadow on it.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım expressed his belief in the accuracy of the referendum results in an address to his AKP group on April 18.
“We as politicians must be able to say new things. It’s time to update ourselves,” Yıldırım said, calling on the opposition to cease efforts to cast a shadow on the legitimacy of the referendum. “Everybody, particularly the main opposition party, has to respect the results,” he added.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli also underlined that the referendum results were legitimate and that the Turkish people made a sound decision about their future, saying, “The YSK made satisfactory statements about the claims.”