The March 2014 local elections took place in the shadow of serious concerns about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism
The Turkish local elections on March 30, 2014, were the most controversial in recent history, triggering an unprecedented number of accusations of irregularities and vote-rigging. For the first time, there were violent clashes between the police and demonstrators as supporters of opposition parties took to the streets to protest the results.
The overall victor in the elections is not in doubt. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won 45.54 percent of the popular vote in metropolitan areas, which includes more than 75 percent of the Turkish population, and 45.43 percent in the elections for provincial assemblies in the rest of the country. The controversies—and the doubts—are in the details, particularly in districts that were expected to be close contests between the AKP and candidates from the main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP).
In some districts—most strikingly in the election for metropolitan municipal mayor in Ankara—ballot-box tallies missing the legally required stamps and signatures were included in the final calculations of the vote. Perhaps more disturbing were the statistical anomalies, such as abnormally high clusters of invalid votes in districts that had been expected to be close contests and that were eventually won by AKP candidates. The same phenomenon was not repeated in districts that were strongholds of the AKP or one of the opposition parties and where the result was regarded as a foregone conclusion.
Such anomalies have inevitably fueled suspicions of the organized manipulation of results in what were regarded as marginal districts. While the hope is that there is an alternative explanation, the failure of electoral authorities to conduct an investigation has inevitably reinforced doubts about the validity of some of the results.
The March 2014 local elections took place in the shadow of serious concerns about Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism. As a result, the unresolved questions about the local elections are likely to intensify the doubts about the possible result of the presidential elections in August 2014. Erdoğan has strongly suggested that he will run as a candidate and, if successful, attempt to introduce a presidential or semi-presidential system in which even more political power is concentrated in his own hands.
It is important for Turkey’s stability, for the strength of its democracy, for its standing in the region, and for its continued good relations with the United States that the upcoming presidential, and later parliamentary, elections be free from the doubts that plague the just-concluded local contests.
It is important for Turkey’s stability, for the strength of its democracy, for its standing in the region, and for its continued good relations with the United States that the upcoming presidential, and later parliamentary, elections be free from the doubts that plague the just-concluded local contests. It was the fear that their voices are not being heard that brought people to Turkey’s streets during last year’s Gezi Park protests. If they become convinced that their votes will also not be counted, their incentive to remain within the political process will diminish. Moreover, the August election will be the first of its type in Turkey—a direct popular election of the president—and the rules governing it appear far from clear.
For all of these reasons, we strongly recommend that the Turkish government allow international monitors to observe the presidential election—just as they have all of the recent elections for national offices. This move would help dispel any doubts remaining after the March vote, bolster Turks’ confidence in the electoral system, and make clear the AKP’s commitment to democracy.