Tuesday, February 09, 2016

OSCE thinks Turkey has not fulfilled its OSCE obligations holding Free & Fair elections in November

Long expected OSCE report on Turkey’s November elections is finally out, here.

I have been reading OSCE reports on Turkey’s elections since 2002 for last two days to see if there is a significant difference when it comes to November elections. Answer to this questions is a clear yes, there is a big difference.

I did a long story on OSCE report and how it differs from previous reports in 2002, 2007, 2011, 2015 June general elections, in Turkish. When I look at the page on OSCE and its election observations, it shows that the OSCE began observing member states’ elections in 1995. In Turkey, first report, seems to be on the website, from 2002.  

OSCE reports on 2002 and 2007 elections held in Turkey use very positive language when describing Turkey’s elections. For example, in 2002, OSCE report embraces Turkey’s elections for opposition party to seize the power (when AKP first time came to the power). You do not see a lot of criticism both in 2002 and 2007 elections, beside the fact that 10% threshold and ban on other languages beside Turkish.

Even for 2015 June elections, OSCE thinks they were “generally free.”

However, when it comes to 2015 November elections, paragraph after paragraph OSCE mission heavily criticizes Turkey’s administration for problems in the elections. 

As far I can see, OSCE is, for the first time, accusing Turkey for not fulfilling the international obligations and standards in the report (page 12, footnote 46).

You feel like you are reading a report on elections that were held in some sort of dictatorial regime.

Though it is the page 12, and footnote 46, when OSCE says clearly that what the report cited “incidents of intimidation and pressure to vote and the restrictions to campaign freely are not in line with the international obligations and standards.”
Full paragraph here, page 12:
“The OSCE/ODIHR LEOM received some reports of voter intimidation and pressure to vote.42 Some members of the CHP, the HDP and the MHP were investigated for defamation of authorities, including insult of the president. A high number of HDP offices were targeted and members were taken into custody.43 In addition, HDP affiliated mayors were suspended,44 and the party’s campaign leaflets were confiscated, which had a restraining effect on its campaign.45 These incidents of intimidation and pressure to vote and the restrictions to campaign freely are not in line with the international obligations and standards.46”

The footnote the report gives here is more interesting, same page, at the bottom:
“Paragraph 7.7 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document provides that the participating States will ensure that law and public policy work to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere in which neither administrative action, violence nor intimidation bars the parties and the candidates from freely presenting their views and qualifications, or prevents the voters from learning and discussing them or from casting their vote free of fear of retribution. See also paragraph 25 of General Comment No. 25 (1996) to Article 25 of the ICCPR. “
OSCE, for the first time in its available reports, accusing Turkey not fulling its obligations to “ensure that law and public policy work to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere.”

Is Turkey’s democracy still vibrant, and strong as US likes to call it?

Finally, I contacted with the US State Department regarding this report. US State Department spokespeople, right after November elections, avoided calling Turkey’s elections “fair, free and transparent” when asked and said that they will wait until the OSCE issues its final report on elections.

When asked this week what the US State Department thinks of Turkey’s elections, in light of OSCE reports, I got this long answer, from a State Department official:
“We note the OSCE’s final report highlights that the November 1, 2015 elections in Turkey offered voters a variety of choices, but that the challenging security environment, violent attacks against party members and on party premises, and restrictions on media freedom hindered campaigning and the free flow of information to the public.
At the time of the elections, OSCE released a statement of preliminary findings highlighting that the elections offered voters a variety of choices, but that restrictions on media freedom remain a serious concern.  We reiterated our own concerns that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition.  That view has not changed with the final OSCE report.
We have continued to make clear publicly, as well as in discussions with Turkish officials at all levels, our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. We have urged the Turkish government to ensure its actions uphold the universal democratic values consistent with international law and commitments and that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.”

When I pressed further, and asked clearly if the US State Department, in light of this OSCE report, sees Turkey’s elections “free, fair and transparent”, I got this response from the same US State Department Official:

“The United States did not provide election monitors to the OSCE Observation Mission for these elections.   We closely followed events and concur with the OSCE’s assessment as outlined in the final report.”

As US says it concurs with the OSCE’s assessment as outlined in the final report, means it also concurs that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations as an OSCE member.

Can we still call Turkey as democracy if the most basic element of democracy which is holding a free, fair and transparent elections not valid anymore?

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