Observation of Municipal Elections in Van, Turkey 30 March 2014
Following an official invitation from the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) decided to observe the municipal elections in Van, Turkey, on 30 March 2014, to demonstrate the Federation’s interest in helping to improve the democratic process in Turkey and the prevention of electoral fraud.
EAFJD assessed the municipal elections for its compliance with the Federation’s European commitments and other international standards for democratic elections. The observers closely monitored the opening of polling stations, the voting, and the counting of ballots.
Headed by Kaspar Karampetian, president of the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy, the delegation was composed of 3 members. In addition, other European delegations from Italy, France and Germany were deployed throughout Van as observers.
Before the Election Day, the delegation met with three BDP members of parliament, party leaders, candidates for municipal elections and the head of Van Bar Association. The delegation attended election meetings throughout the different neighborhoods of Van to monitor the candidates’ election campaigns.
Before Election Day the delegation witnessed a heavy police presence in the city. The death of a Kurdish citizen and the injury of other civilians by police fire led to protests across Van.
On Election Day the EAFJD delegation visited significant number of polling stations from opening to the closure and monitored the counting process.
The voting process was in general calm in the majority of polling stations visited. Undue interference in the process, mainly by police, and some cases of serious violations, including intimidation of voters by the ruling AKP party representatives and the police, were observed in a number of polling stations.
Given the small size and limited scope of its observation presence, the EAFJD mission did not intend to draw conclusions or issue public judgments about overall election process. Nonetheless, given EAFJD’s longstanding engagement and interest in election process in Turkey, the delegation aimed to assist the BDP to reaffirm its right in the recognition of the Kurdish identity in the new constitution, mother tongue education in state schools and democratic autonomy.
However, the European-Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy offers the following findings about the electoral process:
At each polling station visited, EAFJD observers consulted with the presiding officer, accredited political party agents, domestic observers, and voters to identify any concerns of voting irregularity, voter intimidation, and improper campaigning. Observers recorded obstacles by officers to refrain observation.
- Observers reported most polling stations to be fairly well-organized with limited numbers of complaints or irregularities.
- EAFJD observers were encouraged by the high representation of female candidates for municipal elections. In addition, the observers reported high-level of participation in the voting process.
- The observers noted active campaigning both within and around polling stations.
- EADJD observers noted a number of procedural shortcomings on Election Day that intentionally resulted in long lines at polling stations. For example, in one of the biggest and of high importance of the outcome of the elections polling stations, the initially appointed school building as polling station, was deliberately closed by officials and the voters would vote in containers. The result was long queues under heavy snow, which could discourage the voters from voting, thus affecting the result of the will of the people.
- The observers noted that BDP party representatives, who were to watch the polling stations, along with the voters, were sometimes forced to leave the election room and were all the time under police surveillance.
- In some electoral districts the observers noted, policemen entering voting rooms or standing in the direct vicinity of polling stations, a violation of electoral law which had the potential to influence voters. In some districts observers noted cases of intimidation to lawyers by AKP supporters inside polling stations.
- Council Member of BDP was not permitted into one of the voting rooms to observe the election process. In addition, a BDP observer was prevented from entering an electoral station and the mayor of Van was not allowed to enter a station.
- During the final ballot counting procedure, lawyers have fixed many unsealed envelopes that belonged to the Ipekyolu district.
- In districts inhabited by Kurds, observers recorded heavy police presence at each polling station, with the profound intention to hinder the voting process and intimidate voters. In some cases the observers recorded that the policemen tried to close the doors during the ballot counting process, forbidding the presence of the BDP authorized observer, thus violating the electoral law.
- Elderly and illiterate Kurd voters were interrupted in the voting private room by polling officers. Many cases were reported where polling officers were instructing, especially the old women to vote in favour of AKP.
- EAFJD observers recorded comments by lawyers complaining the heavy presence of police to intimidate both the lawyers and the voters.
- At the closing time EAFJD observers noted policemen carrying bags with sealed envelopes, a violation of electoral law which had the potential to undermine the secrecy of the ballot.
Although there were not noted significant acts of violence during the election day in all the areas of Van, it was obvious that the government by deploying a large number of policemen in all the regions was trying to influence on the will of the voters. The ruling AKP party observers in many cases were not only observing the ongoing election procedures in their polling stations, but were intimidating people willing to vote in favour of BDP, were interfering in the voting process. The policemen never intervened to stop this serious violation of the electoral law. The police officers almost in every polling station were never standing at least 15 meters away from the voting room, as required by the law, thus influencing people to vote the pro-governmental lists.
The above discrepancies and the violations of the electoral law, that we observed, could alter the result of the elections in districts that the margin between the two parties was close. As an example we can mention the district of Gevas, where the ruling AKP party won by 7 points difference from the BDP party. In this district we have observed many of the abovementioned violations.
On behalf of EAFJD observation delegation,