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May 11 2019

Discrepancies mar decision to rerun Istanbul mayoral election

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lodged an objection to the Supreme Election Council (YSK) claiming there were irregularities in the March 31 election for mayor of Istanbul and demanded its cancellation, but not the polls conducted at the same time.

Voters in these elections were expected to choose four different categories of candidates: headmen for neighbourhoods or villages, mayors for districts, members of the municipal and provincial councils, and the mayor of Istanbul. The four ballot papers were then put into one envelope and dropped into the ballot box. 

The AKP said 3,500 members of the committees overseeing the ballot boxes and 225 committee chairmen were not public servants, but only demanded the cancellation of the election for the Istanbul metropolitan mayor. In other words, the AKP objection stopped short of demanding the cancellation of the elections for the other officials. 

The YSK ruled to cancel the election for the metropolitan mayor by seven votes in favour and four against, including the council’s chairman Sadi Güven. 

The YSK decision was received with relief by the ruling party, but with protests by the main opposition and suspicion by many other quarters.

There are several objections to this decision because of its deviation from past practices. 

One of them is that, if a political party has an objection about an irregularity, it has to submit a complaint before the deadline that is fixed by the YSK. For the March 31 elections the deadline was April 2. Several such claims were rejected on the grounds they were not submitted before April 2. Despite this, the AKP’s claim was admitted and its objection upheld. 

Five years ago, Güven told a press conference: “It is not possible to re-examine the list of voters after the deadline set by the YSK. It is not possible to withdraw the document given to the elected mayor informing him that he is elected. If there is a procedural irregularity, the elections cannot be cancelled because of it. Instead, the persons who committed the irregularity will be tried in a penal court.” 

The YSK chairman has maintained the position he adopted in 2014 and opposed the cancellation of the mayoral chapter of the recent Istanbul elections.

The second objection is that the procedural discrepancies should not be placed above voter choice. Past practice confirms this rule. In fact, in another election held in 2017, several envelopes without official stamps were found in many poll stations. The main opposition

People’s Republican Party (CHP), at that time filed a claim saying that a ballot in an unstamped envelope should be considered invalid. 

The YSK rejected the claim on the grounds that the voter’s choice was above such a procedural discrepancy. Now, in deviation from this practice, the YSK cancelled the March 31 election by putting a procedural discrepancy such as the composition of the ballot-box-committee above the voter’s choice.

The third objection is that the YSK cancelled only the election for the Istanbul metropolitan mayor. It did not cancel the other polls. In other words, when a voter puts four ballots in one envelope, they constitute inseparable parts of the voter’s choice. By deciding to cancel only the election for the metropolitan mayor, the YSK splits the voter’s choice into four; it considers the metropolitan mayoral election illegal and the remaining three valid. This raises the question of whether the AKP did not ask for the cancellation of the other polls because it had gained the majority of seats in the provincial and municipal councils and did not want to risk losing this majority.

Turkey’s former president, Abdullah Gül, made a meaningful comment to a correspondent. He said: “When we come to a position of strength, we should not do to others the injustice that was done to us in the past.”  

The YSK is expected to issue its reasoned decision within 15 days. We will know more at that time what motivated seven YSK members to cancel one chapter of Istanbul elections.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.