As Turkey heads into weekend presidential and parliamentary elections that are shaping up to be the biggest challenge for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 20 years as leader, complaints are mounting about the fairness of the vote.
Turkey’s opposition has long said the country’s elections are taking place in a uneven playing fieldclaims often backed by international observers.
Media coverage stands out as the most obvious example of where Erdogan enjoys an advantage over his opponentsbut factors such as the use of state resources during the campaign and the questionable interpretation of electoral law are also highlighted.
About 90% of Turkey’s media is in the hands of the government or its patronsaccording to Reporters Without Borders, guaranteeing overwhelming airtime for the president. Only a handful of opposition newspapers remain in print, most of which have transitioned to online-only editions.
During April, Erdogan received nearly 33 hours of airtime on the main state television channel, according to members of the opposition broadcasting watchdog. His presidential opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, was given 32 minutes.
The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, launched legal action last month against broadcaster TRT for not showing its campaign video.
“Unfortunately, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation has ceased to be an impartial and objective institution and has become the Tayyip Radio and Television Corporationsaid CHP legislator Tuncay Ozkan.
The remaining independent outlets are also facing increasing restrictions. Last month, the broadcasting authority RTUK fined independent channels Fox News, Halk TV and TELE1 for news and comments deemed to be in breach of regulations.. Ilhan Tasci, an opposition-appointed member of RTUK, said that in all three cases the stations had been accused of criticizing or questioning the ruling party’s actions.
In a statement following the last 2018 presidential and general elections, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) enjoyed “an undue advantage, including excessive coverage by government-affiliated organizations, public and private media.”
The government’s reach has also extended to social media, where many opposition voices have withdrawn.
A “disinformation” law introduced in October allows for a prison sentence of up to three years for spreading false information “for the sole purpose of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public.”
Sinan Aygul, the only journalist prosecuted under the new law, was sentenced to 10 months in prison in February. He is currently free while he appeals the case.
“The real goal is to silence all dissenting voices in society,” said Aygul, president of the journalists’ association in Bitlis, southeastern Turkey. Is “a law that is directed against anyone who expresses an opinion. It addresses not only individuals but also media organs.”said.
The ill-defined law criminalizes “basic journalistic activities,” Aygul said, adding that it could be used during elections to target groups seeking to protect the security of the polls and using social media to report abuse.
“If there is going to be fraud in the elections, all opposition channels will be silenced using this law,” he said.
The imposition of a state of emergency in the 11 provinces affected by the February earthquake also raised concerns about how the polls will be held in the region. A UN report released on April 11 said at least 3 million people had moved from their homes in the quake zone, many heading to other parts of Turkey.
However, only 133,000 people from the earthquake region have registered to vote outside their home provincessaid the head of the Supreme Electoral Council last month. Ahmet Yener added that election officials were monitoring the preparations, including polling stations in temporary shelters.
In 2018, a state of emergency was imposed across the country following a 2016 coup attempt until shortly before the election, which the OSCE said restricted the media and freedoms of assembly and expression.
Erdogan has intensified his public appearances, closely watched by most television channels, and uses these official duties to attack his rivals. At a ceremony on the Friday of Eid al-Fitr last month to mark the renovations of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, He accused the opposition of “working with terrorist groups.”
The night before, the leaders of four AKP-allied political parties were present at an event to launch the delivery of natural gas from the Black Sea, despite the fact that none held any government position.
Other big projects that were implemented ahead of the vote include Turkey’s first nuclear power reactor built by Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear power company, and various defense developments.
Critics also point to changes in the electoral law to allow government ministers to run as parliamentary candidates while in office, despite legal requirements to the contrary.
Meanwhile, the electoral board has previously faced criticism for siding with the AKP’s objections during the elections.
In 2019 local polls, the victorious opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor was forced to face a replay following AKP complaints of ballot irregularities. The results of the district and city council votes, which were collected in the same polling stations and favored the AKP, were not questioned.
Adem Sozuer, from Istanbul University Law School, told the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper that voters had lost confidence in the electoral authorities. “There is a widespread suspicion in a significant part of society that the elections will be rigged,” said.
(with information from AP)
Erdogan canceled another act days before the elections and there are concerns about his health
In Turkey, an ailing Erdogan faces the strongest opposition in 20 years
The moment when Erdogan left a live interview and was withdrawn due to health problems