ANKARA, Turkey — 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.
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 OSCE 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 southeast 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 OSCE 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.
Ahead of the announcement from the observers, the deputy leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called for the results to be annulled.
“There is only one decision to ease the situation in the context of the law — the Supreme Election Board (YSK) should annul the election,” the Dogan news agency quoted Bulent Tezcan as saying after the CHP alleged widespread violations in Sunday’s poll.
The opposition was particularly incensed by a decision by the YSK to allow voting papers without official stamps to be counted, which they said opened the way for fraud.
“This poll, which followed a principle of ‘open vote but secret count’ will find a place in the dark pages of our history,” Tezcan told reporters at CHP headquarters in Ankara.
Both the CHP and the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) has vowed to contest substantial chunks of the vote with the YSK.
They can do this within the period until the final official results are published by the YSK in the next 10 days.
The referendum has no “democratic legitimacy,” HDP spokesman and MP Osman Baydemir told reporters in Ankara.
The opposition has also complained that local news media published the results before the YSK, whose website has been inaccessible all day Monday.
“‘No’ votes were cast at the ballot box but ‘Yes’ came out on TV and agencies,” added Baydemir.
He said the HDP was challenging the results in “hundreds” of ballot boxes. “We have made our challenges to (the YSK). We continue to make new challenges,” he said.