INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION Republic of Turkey Parliamentary Elections, 7 June PDF

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INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION Republic of Turkey Parliamentary Elections, 7 June 2015 STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS Ankara, 8 June 2015 This is the result of a common endeavour
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INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION Republic of Turkey Parliamentary Elections, 7 June 2015 STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS Ankara, 8 June 2015 This is the result of a common endeavour involving the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Vilija Aleknaitė-Abramikienė (Lithuania) was appointed by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office as Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission. Ignacio Sanchez Amor (Spain) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Tiny Kox (Netherlands) headed the PACE delegation. Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens is the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM), deployed from 6 May The assessment was made to determine whether the elections complied with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards, as well as international obligations for democratic elections and with domestic legislation. This is delivered prior to the completion of the election process. The final assessment of the elections will depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the election process, including the tabulation and announcement of results, and the handling of possible post-election day complaints or appeals. The OSCE/ODIHR will issue a comprehensive final report, including recommendations for potential improvements, some eight weeks after the completion of the election process. The PACE delegation will present its report at its June 2015 part-session in Strasbourg. The OSCE PA will present its report at its Standing Committee meeting on 5 July PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS The 7 June parliamentary elections were characterized by active and high citizen participation, during the campaign and on election day, which demonstrated a broad commitment to holding democratic elections. Voters could choose from a wide range of political parties, but the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold limits political pluralism. Media freedom is an area of serious concern; media and journalists critical of the ruling party were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign. The elections were organized professionally in general. Greater transparency of the election administration and legal provisions for observers, both citizen and international, would serve to increase trust in the electoral process. During the campaign, fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Unfortunately, there were numerous serious incidents, some resulting in fatalities. Twenty parties and 165 independent candidates took part in the elections, offering the electorate a wide choice. Contestants were generally able to campaign freely and did so extensively. However, there were isolated cases of cancellation or restrictions of rallies of the opposition parties in favour of events organized for the President or the Prime Minister. Two criminal court orders for removal of certain opposition posters deemed to be insulting to the President were issued. The campaign was tainted by a high number of attacks on party offices and serious incidents of physical attacks. The legal framework is generally conducive to conduct democratic elections, if implemented fully and effectively. Freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, as well as active and passive suffrage rights are to some extent unduly restricted in the Constitution and the general legislation. In particular, the fact that insult of the President is a criminal offence restricts freedom of speech and campaigning. International Election Observation Mission Page: 2 Previous OSCE/ODIHR and PACE recommendations for legal reforms that would address gaps and ambiguities have generally not been addressed. In a positive step, the freedom to campaign in any language was established in March The method of seat allocation for the 550 members of the parliament, established in the law is inconsistent with the principle of equality of the vote due to significant differences in vote weight. The election administration, managed by the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE), composed of judges, generally administered the elections in a professional manner. Eligible political parties were entitled to nominate non-voting representatives or members at all levels of electoral boards. The meetings of the electoral boards were not open to the public. Not all SBE decisions were posted on its website. The SBE published an election calendar of election administration activities only until election day, missing an opportunity to clarify deadlines regarding post-election day events. Greater SBE transparency would serve to increase trust in the electoral process. Some SBE decisions were inconsistent with the legislation including issues related to election administration and campaigning. Several SBE decisions related to the President s involvement in the campaign included dissenting opinions. Overall, the voter registration system is well developed. The voter lists were finalized by the SBE on 8 April after a two-week public display period. In a welcome development, these were the first parliamentary elections where close to 3 million voters had an opportunity to cast their ballots abroad. Out-of-country voting was conducted in 54 countries with voters also able to vote at custom points. The campaign environment was marked by active engagement on substantive issues by the contestants, involving a large number of voters in campaign events. Polarization between the ruling party and other contestants was notable and confrontational campaign rhetoric was often used. The most overriding issue in the campaign was the transformation of the political system towards presidential, as advocated by the President and the ruling party and opposed by other contestants. The President played an active role in the election campaign, even though under the Constitution he is obliged to be non-partisan and perform his duties without bias. The President attended an extraordinary number of public events, as head of state, along with local officials, however, these events were used as opportunities to campaign in favour of the ruling party and to criticize opposition figures. Numerous complaints calling to halt the President s campaign activities and misuse of administrative resources, including extensive coverage on state television were filed. The President s campaigning contravened campaign rules in the legal framework and is at odds with paragraph 5.4 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document and Section I.2.3a of the Council of Europe Venice Commission Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (Code of Good Practice). The legislation does not contain comprehensive regulations of campaign financing. It only imposes certain restrictions on the amount and nature of donations. Political parties are required to declare their campaign funds solely through annual party financial reports submitted to the Constitutional Court. Donations and spending of parties and candidates during the campaign were not publicly available. The lack of timely and public disclosure of the reports limits the overall transparency and accountability of the campaign finance framework. The media environment is vibrant, with a wide range of broadcast and print outlets, however, undue restrictions in the legal framework remain. Media critical of the ruling party faced increasing pressure and intimidation by public figures and political actors during the election period. The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTSC), is responsible to oversee compliance of broadcast media with the regulations. The seemingly partisan functioning of the RTSC raised concerns over its transparency and independence. The OSCE/ODIHR media monitoring results showed that the election coverage was polarized along partisan lines: three out of five monitored television stations, including the public broadcaster TRT1, displayed a significant bias towards the ruling party, which also purchased the great International Election Observation Mission Page: 3 majority of paid political advertising. The President enjoyed extensive television coverage benefiting the ruling party. The lack of judicial review of SBE decisions challenges the separation of powers and denies access to judicial remedy in election matters. The SBE s dismissal of a series of complaints and appeals related to the President s involvement in the campaign and its extensive media coverage denied election stakeholders access to effective remedy in electoral disputes. All 16 election-related petitions lodged with the Constitutional Court remained undecided as of election day, leaving petitioners without timely remedies. Women played an active role in the campaign, although they remain underrepresented in political life. The Constitution guarantees gender equality, however, there are no legal obligations for the political parties to nominate female candidates. On a positive note, some parties implemented gender quotas. Overall, approximately 28 per cent of candidates on party lists were female. Less than one per cent of District Electoral Board (DEB) members were women and only one woman is represented on the SBE. International observers were accredited for these elections. The law, however, does not create the legal basis for the effective implementation of citizen and international observation as per paragraph 8 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, previous PACE recommendations, and Section II.3.2 of the Code of Good Practice. Two citizen observer groups were denied accreditation by the SBE. In the limited number of polling stations visited by international observers, election day was well organized. A few localized security incidents should be investigated. In order to carry out their key role, citizen observer groups mostly registered on behalf of parties and were present in most polling stations visited. The counting and tabulation processes were noted as generally transparent, although some important procedural errors were observed. In some instances, international observers were denied access to DEBs. The SBE did not publish preliminary results. Broadcasters published them earlier than 21:00, which, although contrary to the Law on Basic Provisions, provided voters with important information. Background PRELIMINARY FINDINGS On 5 January, the Supreme Board of Elections (SBE) announced the parliamentary elections for 7 June. The last parliamentary elections took place in 2011, resulting in a third successive victory for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has held a majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (parliament) since In August 2014, the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the first direct presidential election. The outgoing 550-member parliament is composed of the AKP with 311 seats, the Republican People s Party (CHP) with 125 seats, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 52 seats and the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) with 29 seats. The Anatolia Party, the Democratic Regions Party, the Electronic Democracy Party, the Centre Party, the Nation and Justice Party all held one seat each. A total of 13 independent members were represented and 15 seats were vacant. These parliamentary elections were widely viewed as an important political event, with a potential of changing the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential. The HDP participated as a party in the elections for the first time as its representatives in the outgoing parliament were elected as independent candidates. Twenty political parties took part in these elections, offering the electorate a wide choice. International Election Observation Mission Page: 4 Legal Framework and Electoral System The legal framework is generally conducive to conduct democratic elections, if implemented fully and effectively. The framework has largely remained unchanged since the last parliamentary elections, leaving a number of previous OSCE/ODIHR and PACE recommendations unaddressed. 1 It includes a number of gaps and ambiguities, including absence of provision for citizen and international observation, lack of judicial review of SBE decisions, absence of regulations on recounts and invalidation of results, and insufficient campaign finance regulations. The elections are primarily regulated by the 1982 Constitution, the 1961 Law on Basic Provisions on Elections and Voter Registers (Law on Basic Provisions), the 1983 Law on Parliamentary Elections, and the 1983 Law on Political Parties (LPP). Regulations and decisions issued by the SBE, which are part of the legal framework did not sufficiently supplement the legislation in a number of key areas, including accreditation of party observers and matters related to the campaign. Some SBE decisions exceeded its regulation-making authority, lacked a clear legal basis, were inconsistent with the law, or interpreted the law in a manner inconsistent with democratic principles. The Constitution, adopted under military rule, entrenches fundamental rights and the superiority of international law over domestic legislation, however, it concentrates on bans and prohibitions for the protection of the state rather than broad guarantees of rights and freedoms. Gender equality is guaranteed, but not the rights of ethnic groups. Freedoms of association, assembly and expression, key to holding democratic elections, and some electoral rights, are unduly restricted in the Constitution and in the broader legal framework. 2 In particular, the fact that defamation of the President is a criminal offence restricts freedom of speech and campaigning. In a positive step, recent amendments to the legal framework addressed some previous OSCE/ODIHR and PACE recommendations. In 2014, the LPP was amended to decrease the threshold for political parties to qualify for state funding. 3 The Law on Basic Provisions was revised in 2014 to allow campaigning in any language. 4 Members of parliament (MPs) are elected for four year terms under a proportional system in 85 multimember constituencies with closed political party lists and independent candidates. Seat redistribution was undertaken by the SBE in early 2015, based on current population distribution statistics. 5 The system of seat allocation established in the law results in a significant differential of registered voters to seats across constituencies, which is inconsistent with the principle of equality of the vote under paragraph 7.3 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, Section I of the Code of Good Practice and other international obligations and standards. 6 Political parties must meet stringent requirements in order to participate in elections, including the submission of a full list of candidates and organizational structures in at least half of the provinces. 7 Joint candidate lists are not permitted. Under the law, political parties are prohibited from promoting a See all previous OSCE/ODIHR reports on Turkey. The drafting of a new constitution to broadly guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms stalled in October The threshold was lowered from seven to three per cent of votes received in the most recent elections. The provision is legally applicable for the first time during these elections. The LPP still includes a provision prohibiting the use of any language other than Turkish in political activities. The number of seats per constituency ranges from 2 to 30. On 5 May, the HDP submitted a request to the SBE for a review of the seats in the provinces of Bayburt and Mus claiming the statistics used for the seat distribution had been manipulated. The application included an analysis between population statistics used by the SBE and voter register statistics issued by the Ministry of Interior. On 13 May, the request was rejected by the SBE. In Bayburt province there are 27,059 registered voters per seat and in a constituency in Izmir 120,877 registered voters per seat. See also paragraph 21 of the 1996 United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) General Comment No. 25 to Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition, an organizational structure in at least one third of the districts within those provinces is required. The Rights and Reality Party was not registered to compete by the SBE due to an insufficient organizational structure. International Election Observation Mission Page: 5 number of political ideologies, including non-secularism, separatism, and the existence of minorities. These restrictions undermine the freedoms of association and expression, and limit political pluralism. To qualify for seat allocation, political parties must surpass the national electoral threshold of 10 per cent of valid votes cast. The threshold is a subject of public discussion. In December 2014, the CHP submitted a bill to lower the threshold to three per cent, but it failed to pass. In 2014, three nonparliamentary parties lodged separate petitions with the Constitutional Court challenging the threshold. On 5 March 2015, the court refused jurisdiction in the cases on grounds that challenges to legislation cannot be the subject of individual petitions. The OSCE/ODIHR, PACE and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) previously recommended that the threshold be lowered to increase political pluralism. 8 Election Administration The conduct of elections was organized in a generally professional manner. The elections were administered by a four-tier election administration: SBE, 81 Provincial Election Boards (PEBs), 1,067 District Election Boards (DEBs) and 174,220 Ballot Box Committees (BBCs). The SBE is a permanent, 11-member body composed of judges elected for 6 years with the overall authority and responsibility for the conduct of the elections. 9 Eligible political parties can appoint non-voting members to the SBE. Currently, the non-voting members are representatives from AKP, CHP, MHP, HDP and the Felicity Party (SP). 10 The PEBs are located in each province and consist of the three most senior judges in the province, appointed for two years terms. The four political parties that received the highest number of votes in the province in the last general elections, can each nominate a non-voting member to the PEB. The DEBs have seven members chaired by the most senior judge in the district; four members are nominated by political parties and two are civil servants. 11 The BBCs are required to be composed of seven members, five nominated by political parties, and two civil servants. The Law on Basic Provisions specifies that the chairperson should be chosen by lot. However, these procedures were not followed in several DEBs that appointed the chairpersons directly. 12 The SBE printed a total of 73,988,955 ballots. Books of 405, 390 and 200 ballots were printed and distributed for BBCs in villages, neighbourhoods (Mahalle), and out-of-country BBCs, respectively. The SBE determined the number of ballots to be printed and distributed by taking into consideration the legal provisions and practices from previous elections. As referred by the SBE, the Law on Local Administration Elections stipulates that the quantity of printed ballots should not exceed the number of registered voters by more than 15 per cent, and the Law on Basic Provisions and the Law on Parliamentary Elections stipulate that each polling station should be provided with a book of 400 ballots. The decision to print and distribute books of 405 and 390 ballots to all in-country BBCs, In the case of Yumak and Sadak v. Turkey, application no /03, 30 January 2007, the ECtHR ruled that the threshold did not amount to a violation of the right to free elections; however, the ECtHR considered the threshold excessive and noted that it would be desirable to be lowered to ensure political pluralism. Six SBE members are elected from and by the Supreme Court. Five are elected from and by the Council of
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