Protests continued in Istanbul and other cities over allegations of vote fraud in Sunday’s referendum. The narrow 51-49 percent victory gives Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers to turn the country into an executive presidency from the current parliamentary system. But allegations of ballot stuffing and mishandling of certified ballots continue.
“Erdogan a thief, Erdogan a murderer” hundreds chanted in the Kadikoy, the center of the Asian side of Istanbul and a stronghold of the president’s opponents. “The vote was unfair. We don’t want one-man rule. We just want democracy for everyone,” a woman protestor said.
Some protestors carried placards with the viral hashtag slogans from referendum night “The ‘No’ is not finished” and ” ‘No’ has won”.
Similar protests were held across Istanbul. The demonstrations were smaller than Monday when thousands took to the streets. Demonstrations were also held in other cities, including the capital, Ankara.
Protests have been broadly tolerated by security forces, which have sweeping powers to stop them, under emergency rules introduced after July’s failed coup. Usually those powers are used to quell anti-government dissent.
The Kadikoy protest was devoid of the usual intimidating presence of heavily armed riot police and armored cars. Instead, plain-clothes police filmed those participating and checked foreign media credentials as well as occasionally politely asking demonstrators not to use derrogative chants against the president.
Dawn raids were made across Istanbul Wednesday, detaining dozens of people suspected of organizing and participating in the protests.
The unrest is focusing on the decision by Turkey’s Supreme Election board during voting to allow ballots without an official stamp in Sunday’s referendum. Under Turkey’s election law, all ballots and the envelope they are placed in have to have an official stamp, a measure to prevent vote-stuffing.
Election board Head Sadi Guven made the decision, reportedly without consulting his other board members and at the request of the ruling AK Party. International monitors of the OSCE strongly criticized the decision Monday in their initial findings on the referendum.
The result also prompted the European Union to weigh in: “We also call on all actors to show restraint and on the authorities to launch transparent investigations into these alleged irregularities found by the observers,” said EU Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas at a press conference Tuesday.
Growing numbers of unverified videos and photos have appeared on social media purporting to showing vote-stuffing. Many are from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. Much of the region has strict security as it battles Kurdish insurgents of the PKK.
Several voting districts that are traditional strongholds of the pro-Kurdish HDP that was campaigning against the referendum recorded massive ‘yes’ votes. Only one-half percent voted no on the referendum in one district where a majority voted for the HDP in the 2015 election.
The HDP along with the main opposition CHP, Republican People’s Party, are refusing to recognize the result, calling for the narrow referendum victory to be annulled.
“The only thing that needs to be done with regard to this referendum which has lost its legitimacy, is its annulment,” declared Bulent Tezcan, deputy CHP leader, after submitting an annulment petition Tuesday to the Supreme Election Board.
The CHP also threatened Wednesday to boycott parliament. “We do not recognize the referendum result,” said CHP spokeswoman Selin Sayek Boke. “There should be no doubt that we will exercise all our democratic rights against it.”
A nationwide campaign has started for individual petitions challenging the vote. Hundreds of people queued outside the Supreme Election Board headquarters in Ankara to personally file complaints. Turkey’s Supreme Election Board, which is the only body legally empowered to annul the vote, has started considering the more than 700 complaints.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pushed back Wednesday, telling reporters, “It is unacceptable for the main opposition party not to acknowledge results which the public has already acknowledged.”
In a move widely seen as intended to thwart potential further legal complications over the referendum, Erdogan’s first meeting on the day after Sunday’s vote was with the head of the Constitutional Court.
The president and his ruling AK Party, under emergency rule in the aftermath of the coup, have purged and arrested thousands of the judiciary members, including those of the Supreme Election Board and the Constitutional Court.
“There is no way this can be reversed. To expect the ‘yes’ camp to accept calls for a re-vote is naive in the present polarized political climate,” warns political columnist Semih Idiz of the Al Monitor website. “The performance of the Supreme Election Board it is almost like it’s co-opted (to the president). So the way things are stacked against the opposition, I don’t think their efforts will lead to much.”
But the narrow margin of victory, and the ongoing controversy appears to be galvanizing the opposition, which has been largely influenced by the tens of thousands of arrests and purges across academia, media and within the Turkish State, under emergency rule.
“We are standing up for our ‘no’ votes,” declares a journalist student at Wednesday’s Kadikoy protest. “All we want is fair and just referendum results. And we will keep demanding this until we win!”
Protests across Turkey have been called for Wednesday night. “For the ‘no’ camp, it has injected a new sense of enthusiasm,” notes columnist Idiz. “It’s now a question of how the main opposition will mobilize in the lead up to the next elections, whether it’s early elections, or in 2019.”