The recent elections in Turkey are under increased scrutiny, with results being challenged across the country not only by political parties, but also, for the first time, by non-partisan groups and individuals.
Riot police using water cannon and tear gas dispersed protesters calling for an investigation into the local election results in the capital Ankara.
Along with opposition parties, non-partisan pressure groups and individuals are contesting the fairness of some of the races.
Soli Ozel, a political columnist for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk, says the country is witnessing a new development – citizen empowerment.
“It’s very important: people are owning up to their votes and for the first time there is this great sensitivity. Their are a lot of people who consistently bicker on the Internet, saying: ‘Oh how awful these things are.’ Other people are basically taking matters into their own hands; we have not seen this before,” said Ozel.
Observers say there have been widespread complaints of ballots not being counted, exceptionally high turnouts – surpassing a 100 percent in certain areas – favoring the ruling party, and allegations of ballot-box stuffing.
Turkey’s Supreme Election Board, or YSK, is made up of senior judges and supervises the elections. But Kadri Gursel, diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet and the Al-Monitor website, says with the government giving itself greater control over the judiciary, the YSK’s impartiality may be in question.
“Where the judiciary came under heavy control and pressure of the government, how we can reassure that the judiciary will safeguard the fairness of the election? I am doubtful about it,” said Gursel.
Opposition parties are questioning the fairness of the YSK, after it rejected calls for a recount and investigation of the heavily-contested Ankara vote. More than 8,000 complaints were made over that vote, which the ruling AK Party won by less than 1 percent. The YSK board decision is now being appealed.
The YSK did order 15 recounts in the contested city of Agri, where the AK Party narrowly lost. The government has dismissed accusations of interference, pointing to the fact that the electoral board ordered a recount in a city the ruling party initially won but subsequently lost.
Another point of contention is the electricity cuts that took place in during the vote count in Ankara. Opposition parties claim the blackouts facilitated vote tampering.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz rejected such claims.
“I’m not joking, my friends. A cat entered a power distribution unit. It was the cause of the blackout in Ankara and it’s not the first time this has happened. It is wrong to link it with the elections. It’s wrong to cry foul play. The opposition behave like students who didn’t study their lessons enough,” said Yildiz.
The explanation provoked disbelief and ridicule across Turkey’s social media, with images of cats being portrayed as enemies of democracy.
But analyst Ozel worries that faith in fair elections could be under threat.
“For the moment, this is on a manageable scale. But if we discover way beyond what could be tolerated, then the government will have sullied the only institution that we have left that we believed functioned properly, which would be the elections, throughout our voting history,” he said.
With Turkey deeply polarized, observers say this August’s presidential election, in which a Turkish president will for the first time be picked through a popular vote rather than by parliament, will be crucial. And, with Turkey facing a general election less than a year later, addressing any doubts about electoral fairness will be crucial to maintaining political stability.