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OSCE released its initial report on Turkey’s controversial referendum, serious criticism continued

By Leyla Amur

Highlight of the OSCE report published by Cumhuriyet, below.

Not transparency 

-In Turkey, the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE) is a permanent committee with 11 members who are elected by judges from the Court of Cassation and the Council of State. The four dominant political parties in Turkey’s parliament nominate non-voting members to the SBE. When it came to decision making, out of the 218 decisions made by the SBE, 180 were not made a matter of public record, including the decision regarding the number of ballots printed. Meetings held by the SBE and other lower election boards were open only to certain people: non-voting political party members, which is something that hindered transparency.

Structure of Supreme Board of Elections Overhauled Since the Coup Attempt

-Since the last general elections in 2015, eight members of the SBE had been replaced by newly appointed judges. Of these eight, five were replaced because their terms were up and three were removed from their posts because they are in custody. A string of emergency decrees following the failed coup attempt in July 2016 led to a reshuffling across the referendum administration. There were 9 SBE chairpersons who were dismissed and two more who were placed under custody. Within the District Election Boards (DEBs), there were 143 dismissals and 67 were placed into custody. More than 500 staff who sat on the electoral board were placed into custody.

”No” Campaign Opressed, Limited by the Turkish Gvt

-Supporters of the “no” campaign were limited in their activities, particularly as many suffered from physical attacks. Many were arrested on the grounds of organizing illegal public events or insulting the president. Some “no” campaigners faced obstacles in renting spaces or premises to hold activities or had their events cancelled by local authorities. The HDP faced difficulties when their campaign poster and Kurdish song were both banned, with authorities citing that this violated the integrity of the Turkish state and Turkish as the official language. These obstacles to campaigning are in violation of paragraph 7.7 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.

Unfair Media Coverage

– Turkey’s legal framework surrounding the referendum was insufficient as impartial coverage was not provided and political parties did not have equal access to the public media, which run counter to OSCE principles, Council of Europe standards and other international obligations.

-The findings from the OSCE/ODIHR LROM media monitoring reveal that the campaign was found in all the national media. Of the five channels monitored, three were in favor of the “yes” campaign. The “yes” campaign was prominent in both public and private media, with 76% of airtime on television and 77.5% of space in the press.

Observers Were Hindered, Not Granted Access

-During opening and voting on referendum day, some IROM observers were hindered in their observation when access was either not granted to limited and decisions on access were often taken by persons who were not members of the Ballot Box Committees (BBCs).

Validation of Unstamped Votes Is a Big Issue 

During the day of the referendum, the SBE issued two instructions. One was to consider ballots that have been incorrectly stamped by the BBC as valid. The other was to consider ballots that had not been stamped at all valid as well. The last instruction came after the tallying of votes began. These instructions removed barriers and went against a law that says not to count such ballots as valid. SBE was not able to count those ballots that had been improperly stamped – or in some cases not stamped at all. Furthermore, the SBE said that because party-nominated members of the BBC signed off on the protocol, there is no reason for SBE to repeal the decision. HDP has claimed publicly that there were discrepancies in 668 protocols. At 23:25 on referendum day, the SBE stated that the preliminary results pointed to “yes,” however did not release figures. The media reported that the turnout was 83.7%.

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