OSCE: "Unlevel playing field" created in Turkish referendum
Turkey’s referendum is being contested due to the “unlevel playing field” created for both sides, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) said in an announcement on Monday.
The OSCE, which monitored the referendum, added that voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and limitations to fundamental freedoms had a negative effect, despite the fact that technical aspects of the process were well administered.
“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.
Florin added: “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.”
The head of the OHDIR observation mission, Tana de Zulueta noted: “The two sides [the YES and NO campaigns] did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters.”
The YES campaign, she added, “dominated” media coverage, which along with restrictions to the media, arrests of journalists, and shut-down media outlets, “reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views.”
A state of emergency – enacted in Turkey after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 – was also used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression, the OSCE said.
The OSCE added that provincial governors used state-of-emergency powers to further restrict the freedom of assembly and expression.
INEAQUALITY BETWEEN YES AND NO
The OSCE also condemned the unequal campaigning, saying that the Supreme Body for Elections (SBE) was limited in its abilities to sanction biased coverage.
The law limits full participation in the referendum to eligible political parties and does not regulate the involvement of other stakeholders, the statement says.
Further, the SBE decided that civil society organisations and professional associations were not permitted to hold campaign events.
“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,” she added.
The OSCE noted that the access of the elections observing body (ODIHR) was also limited in some cases.
According to the organisation’s statement, police presence was high on referendum day in Turkey, and in some cases, authorities checked voters; identification documents before granting access to the polls.