How Last-Minute Ruling by Electoral Board Changed Everything

A group of international monitors called the referendum an uneven contest given the unequal terms during the campaign period, the clampdown on media and arrests of journalists. The Turkish opposition party challenged the result on the ground that Election Board cast a doubt on the entire vote with a last-minute controversial decision.

At the heart of debates over possible fraud lies Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) last-minute ruling to allow unstamped ballots to be counted as valid votes.

YSK President Sadi Guven defended the decision by reference to the institution’s past practices during contested counts. But the history of YSK rulings belies its incumbent president, gives additional ammunition to legitimate criticism of the Turkish opposition parties.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu said YSK’s decision inflicted a debilitating damage to the legitimacy of the vote. Another CHP lawmaker even urged the YSK to cancel the vote.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a victory on Sunday night, with 51.4 percent of voters backing constitutional amendment giving him vastly expanded powers that many see amount to a dictatorship.

The YSK’s decision constitutes the centerpiece of political turbulence as the opposition does not show up signs of conceding to what they say a fait accompli by the government and a fraud by politicized election board.

Tens of thousands of No voters flocked to streets in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities across Turkey on Monday night to protest referendum result. University students in Ankara carried banners read “No Won, Our Struggle Has Just Begun.” But President Erdogan warned against any attempt questioning the result, says efforts are bound to be doomed in vain. It’s over, the president said on Monday.

According to the electoral procedure, each ballot must have an official seal to be counted as valid.

The late ruling to lift that requirement openly contradicts past practices. Opposition CHP and People’s Democracy Party (HDP) claims that as many as 2.5 unstamped ballots were counted as valid.

A press statement by a group of international monitoring group on Monday said the referendum was “neither fair nor free.”

Regarding the YSK’s decision to change the ballot procedure, monitors said it “removed an important safeguard.”

When delving into past rulings of YSK, there were so many precedents that the board dismissed many votes as invalid in a specific region or a place when ballot lacked official stamps.

In 2014 local elections, the board annulled election of council members of the local administration in Antalya’s Demre district, after a complaint about unstamped ballots. In the central province of Nigde during local elections, the YSK took a similar decision over ballots that did not bear an official stamp. And in eastern province of Bitlis, the board canceled a district election for the same reason.

In 2010 referendum, the YSK did not accept many votes as valid over the same issue. There were ample rulings that reveal a clear-cut policy of the Electoral Board which is quite clear about unstamped ballots.

For reasons unknown to many, all of a sudden that long-held practice has been abandoned on Sunday during counting. That sent rippling waves across the political spectrum, prompting nationalist politician Meral Aksener to call the YSK decision a scandal.

But the board appeared unwavering over its ruling. Given the high number of ballots without official stamps, that break with electoral law mattered a lot. It gave Mr. Erdogan a historic victory, however thin the margin was.

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