Monitors Say Turkish Referendum Neither Fair Nor Free

A group of international observers who monitored Turkey’s momentous constitutional vote offered a blunt assessment, saying that the referendum was contested on an unlevel playing field, and the two sides in the campaign did not have equal opportunities.

“On referendum day there were no major problems, except in some regions, however, we can only regret the absence of civil society observers in polling stations,” said Cezar Florin Preda, Head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, dismissed Western criticism and portrayed it as a “crusader’s mentality.” In his victory speech on Sunday night, President urged international organizations and Western countries to show respect for the referendum result, whatever slim margin it had.

The observers said the referendum was an uneven contest. They pointed to a deep gap between two sides’ campaign and said support for ‘Yes’ dominated campaign coverage. Arrests of journalists and shutdown of media outlets prevented other views from being heard, the mission of monitors said.

“The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters,” ODIHR Head Tana de Zulueta said.

“The campaign framework was restrictive and the campaign imbalanced due to the active involvement of several leading national officials, as well as many local public officials, in the ‘Yes’ campaign,” de Zulueta said.

“We observed the misuse of state resources, as well as the obstruction of ‘No’ campaign events. The campaign rhetoric was tarnished by some senior officials equating ‘No’ supporters with terrorist sympathizers, and in numerous cases ‘No’ supporters faced police interventions and violent scuffles at their events.”

Turkey’s opposition parties vowed to challenge the result, pointing to widespread irregularities and even cases of fraud. Supreme Election Board’s last-minute ruling to allow unstamped ballots to be counted as valid votes unleashed a fierce social backlash but did not alter the result for the moment.

On Monday, CHP called on the election board to cancel referendum result. “There is only one way to end the discussions about the vote’s legitimacy and to put the people at ease, and that is for the Supreme Election Board to cancel the vote,” AP quoted CHP lawmaker Bulent Tezcan as saying.

The group said while they had no information of actual fraud, the board’s decision to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes undermined an important safeguard and contradicted the electoral law.

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