Turkey referendum was 'unlevel playing field': Monitors

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) greeting his supporters during a visit to the Ottoman Fatih Sultan Mehmet's tomb in Istanbul, a day after his victory in a national referendum.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) greeting his supporters during a visit to the Ottoman Fatih Sultan Mehmet's tomb in Istanbul, a day after his victory in a national referendum. PHOTO: AFP/ TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE

ANKARA  (AFP) – Turkey’s referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and the vote count itself was marred by late procedural changes that removed key safeguards, international observers said on Monday (April 17).

Turkey voted on Sunday in a referendum on granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extra powers that was won by the ‘Yes’ camp but disputed by the opposition.

“The referendum took place on an unlevel playing field and the two sides of the campaign did not have equal opportunities,” said Cezar Florin Preda of the joint mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

“Late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard,” said Preda, who headed the PACE delegation, referring to the election authorities’ decision to permit ballot papers without an official stamp.

“The legal framework, which is focused on elections, remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum,” the monitors said in a joint statement.

Preda also said the fact that the referendum was held under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of last year’s failed coup infringed upon a “fundamental freedom”.

ODIHR mission head Tana de Zulueta also noted that people forced to flee their homes in areas of the south-east affected by security operations faced difficulty in voting.

“The campaign rhetoric was tarnished by some officials equating ‘No’ sympathisers with terrorists,” de Zulueta said.

These contravened the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s commitments and Council of Europe standards “regarding freedom and equality in the campaign,” she said.

“Our monitoring showed the ‘Yes’ campaign dominated media coverage,” the monitor added.

But Preda added: “It’s not our role to say what is the level of fraud or (comment on) the other allegations made by the opposition.”

“We are not talking about fraud and have no information on this subject,” he said, noting the allegations were made by political parties.