Don’t Expect a Clean Election in Turkey

Turkish President and the leader of the Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets people during a party rally on May 29 in Tekirdag province.
Getty Images

Don’t Expect a Clean Election in Turkey

Suspected foul play looms over the opposition party as Turkey’s critical elections approach.

The Turkish presidential elections are scheduled for June 24. Will they be free and fair? Early indicators suggest not.

On April 16, 2017, Turkey held a referendum to change the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. This new system allows President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to run in two more elections, giving him the potential to be Turkey’s president until 2029. But some problems with the voting caused many to doubt its fairness. An Austrian member of the observer mission of the Council of Europe (Europe’s leading human rights body) said that 2.5 million “Yes” votes in favor of the president were most likely tampered with. Erdoğan and other Turkish authorities dismissed the accusations, telling foreign observers they should “know their place.” Alev Korun, an Austrian member of the council’s observer team, said that the Higher Electoral Board (ysk) decided at the last minute to accept ballots even though they were not stamped by election officials.

Al-Monitor reported, “The ysk’s decision [to accept unstamped ballots] and subsequent changes to election rules in March have stoked misgivings over the fairness of the upcoming polls, in which small margins could be a big significance.”

The second problem comes from the relocation of polling stations. On May 28, the ysk announced that it was relocating the majority of polling stations found in Kurdish towns and cities, due to security reasons. The Kurdish people make up 144,000 of eligible voters, so the results would take a significant hit if those voters don’t make it to the polls. The new destinations would create a walking distance of more than 3 miles for people in the Kurdish cities. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (hdp) claims that the government is deliberately moving the stations to reduce the number of Kurds that vote. “[T]he authorities are maneuvering to push the party below the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament,” hdp lawmaker Mithat Sancar remarked. “This has nothing to do with security, rather it is a move to break the will of voters.” A spokesman for the party said that the ysk was moving the stations from villages where the hdp received 75 percent of the vote to ones where Erdoğan’s party received 75 percent of the vote.

The third reason is the nation’s current state of emergency. Turkey has been in a nationwide state of emergency since the Kurdistan Workers Party (pkk) was outlawed by military force in 2016. “The aftermath of the coup saw a ferocious clampdown on oppositional quarters across Turkey,” Al-Monitor continued, “including the Kurdish political movement, which had its municipal administrations seized and many of its leaders and activists arrested.”

An election officer from the 1990s, Metin Bakirhan, reminisced on what it was like voting under a state of emergency: “Everybody was under psychological and physical pressure. Sometimes security and administrative officials would gather people in coffee houses, hurling threats to burn down neighborhoods if they voted for certain parties. Election security under a state of emergency is unconceivable.”

These government control tactics are nothing new, especially in Turkey. Trumpet writer Joel Hilliker described the authoritarian trend rising in Turkey in “Exiled Journalist: Beware Turkey’s Authoritarian Shift.” He wrote:

Many outsiders considered Turkey’s success under Erdoğan a model of successful Muslim democracy.

More recently, however, Erdoğan’s tone has changed. He is aggressively transforming Turkish society from its once-revered secular state into a nation dominated by Islam. …

In a nationwide referendum on April 16, 2017, Turks narrowly voted to pass 18 constitutional amendments that have transformed the nation from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential republic—effectively, an executive presidency. (The referendum vote was tainted by fraud.) Erdoğan can now remain in power for at least another decade in a nation that is increasingly beholden to him. Some observers called it “the death of Turkish democracy.”

Listen to the Trumpet Hour program on this subject.

We have entered the age of strongmen. This shift to authoritarianism is happening around the world, primarily in Europe and Asia. In an article about Turkey’s rising strongman, Brent Nagtegaal wrote:

Erdoğan has been tightening his hold on power for years, but never as overtly as in the last two years. But surprisingly, most of his actions have the support of the majority of Turks. It was they who answered the call from the minarets to stop the tanks in their tracks. It was they who reelected him over and over in spite of his authoritarian tactics. It was they who approved his constitutional amendment. …

Biblical prophecy does not say whether or not Erdoğan will continue to rule Turkey, but it does indicate that there will be a strong ruler in Turkey capable of navigating powerful alliances, especially with a German-led Europe.

The rise in strong leaders is becoming an increasingly obvious global trend:

For more on why this is a significant development, read our article “The New Strongman Age” from our January Trumpet, as well as our article on Turkey from that issue: “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Self-Serving Sultan.”