Turkey votes amid questions over the elections’ integrity

Demirtas was a charismatic challenger against Erdogan in the previous presidential election when he was free and getting huge support not only from Kurds. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2018

Turkey votes amid questions over the elections’ integrity

ANKARA: Turkey held its breath on Sunday for the outcome of the elections that could consolidate Recep Tayip Erdogan’s power or deal him a bloody nose from an increasingly emboldened opposition.

Since early morning, people have cast their votes both for the president and parliament. 

The elections mark Turkey’s transformation from a parliamentary to a presidential system after the constitutional changes approved in April 2017 to abolish the office of prime minister and reduce legislative power by giving the president extra authority. 

The election campaign in Turkey this time was unfair but competitive. A preliminary report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the restrictions on freedom of association and speech.

Turkish media is almost completely owned by pro-government business groups, and the campaigns of opposition candidates were barely published or broadcast. 

The pro-Kurdish HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas ran his campaign to be the next president from his prison cell. He has been in pre-trial detention since Nov. 2016 on terrorism charges.

Demirtas was a charismatic challenger against Erdogan in the previous presidential election when he was free and getting huge support not only from Kurds but from the liberal and socio-democrat segments of Turkish society. 

The concerns about the elections’ integrity has topped the agenda during the campaigns. Some major changes to election procedures such as relocation of polling stations in south-eastern regions on security grounds and the validation of unsealed ballots have been criticized by a wide segment of society. 

Allegations of vote rigging in the south-eastern province of Urfa, where four people have been killed in pre-election tensions, were immediately heard by the Supreme Electoral Board of Turkey, which said on Sunday that investigations had been opened about the claims. 

“People are illegally placing mass votes and they are physically attacking election observers who attempt to prevent it,” said a young voter in the capital Ankara. “In which democratic country can 'Votes Are Stolen in Urfa' hashtag become a trend topic on Twitter in such a critical day?”

In the subsequent hours, a car stopped in the south-eastern town of Suruc, where three people carrying four bags with ballots were detained. 

This is not the first time that Turkish elections have been marked by fraud allegations. The angry citizens have once again mobilized to prevent any further vote rigging under grassroots initiatives such as Vote and Beyond by becoming volunteer ballot observers and monitoring the vote registration processes. 

Opposition-supporting social media users reminded others to not forget the misdeeds and the injustices that Erdogan’s ruling AKP committed during 16 years of its rule, such as silencing the media, steady weakening the rule of law and many illiberal practices in financial governance. 

But the election campaign has given hope to Erdogan’s opponents that he is no longer invincible.

Millions of enthusiastic voters have felt encouraged enough to pour on to the streets for opposition election rallies. 

The rising star during the campaign, Muharrem Ince, who is the candidate of the main opposition CHP, succeeded in gathering more than five million people in his latest rally in Istanbul, and an estimated three million participants in a rally in Izmir the day before. 

The opposition attempted to capitalize on the economic concerns, made promises for social benefits and committed to broadening democratic rights while improving relations with Western allies. 

One of the secrets behind Ince’s success was surely his non-polarizing political discourse, by giving strong signals that he would be the “president of all” when elected. 

“I would like to raise my child in a democratic and free country. She cannot vote now because she is four years old, but I vote for her future,” said Nalan Celik, a secular CHP voter who attended Ince’s Izmir rally. 

Although there are multiple scenarios for the outcome of the elections, according to most surveys the dominant scenario is Erdogan winning the first round and AKP and its nationalistic ally MHP forming the majority in the parliament.

However, given that there is still emergency rule in the country after the 2016 attempted coup and a spiral of silence among voters, the reliability of the polls is in question. 


Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

Updated 20 September 2020

Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

  • President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases

JEDDAH: The official coronavirus death toll in Iran surged past 24,000 on Saturday as health chiefs admitted 90 percent of COVID-19 patients on ventilators in hospital were dying.

Payam Tabarsi, head of infectious diseases at Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, said the number of emergency room patients had jumped from 68 a day to 200 in the past week. “People are queuing to be admitted,” he said, and if the trend continued, deaths from coronavirus could reach 600 a day within weeks.

Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

Iran was slow to react to the first coronavirus cases in February, and is now battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak. Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.

Analysts both inside and outside Iran are skeptical of the official figures and believe the true level of infections and deaths is far higher. President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases.

“Today, the Health Ministry gave a worrying report,” he said on Saturday. “The public’s observance, which was 82 percent in earlier weeks, has fallen to 62 percent.”

FASTFACTS

  • Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118. •Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June. •551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. •Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’
  • Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.
  • 551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271.
  • Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia daily coronavirus case numbers have fallen to a five-month low after 551 new cases were reported on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. The death toll rose by 28 to 4,458. The last time the Kingdom recorded numbers in the 500s was April 15, when 518 cases were reported.

Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a “second wave” of the pandemic after the first outbreaks early in the year.

European countries from Denmark to Greece have announced new restrictions to curb surging infections in some of their largest cities, and Britain is considering new measures to tackle an “inevitable” second wave of COVID-19.

The UK has reported the fifth-largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico. “We are now seeing a second wave coming in ... it is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

England’s public health chief Yvonne Doyle said: “We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase … among older people. This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”