Is a democratic election possible in Turkey

Is a democratic election possible in Turkey


Turkey enters an election process far removed from democracy, reduced to who will win which mayoralty or parliamentary seat. Without demands from the opposition, all elections in Turkey will continue to drift further from democracy.

No concerns were raised by the opposition about the security of the ballot in the 2023 Presidential elections. They even declared that, aside from minor irregularities, the integrity of the ballot was maintained.

However, the process leading up to the casting of votes was far from democratic, even if the counting of votes was procedurally correct. Surprisingly, and perhaps even more disheartening, is the lack of any demand or objection from the opposition for the democratization of the election process.

The opposition and the government, which reduce democracy to elections and elections to merely the security of the ballot, seem unlikely to win an election that could change the central power under the current conditions.
This is the reality.

For an election to be considered democratic by international standards, numerous criteria must be met.

According to the 1990 Copenhagen Document, to which Turkey is a signatory, elections must adhere to specific criteria: conducting elections in a free environment, no discrimination in nominations and voting among citizens, the right to establish political parties and their equal right to compete, conducting election campaigns in a free and fair environment, unrestricted access for candidates to media, and finally, allowing the elected officials to assume and perform their duties.

However, Turkey falls significantly short of meeting these criteria.

The foundation of these criteria is the necessity of ensuring a fair election process where equal conditions are provided for all candidates. In Turkey, the power of the government-controlled public, media, and capital does not even allow for a fair competition, let alone equal conditions.

In an environment where ninety-five percent of the media is controlled by capital close to the government, the opposition tries to make its faint voice heard within a small granted space.

The violation of the obligation stated in Article 7.5 of the Copenhagen Document, "ensuring the legal infrastructure for the establishment of political parties and their competition under equal conditions," has been witnessed against the Kurdish political movement. Throughout Turkey's political history, the Kurdish political movement has struggled in politics under the shadow of party closure cases.

During the past elections, hundreds of HDP politicians entered the elections under the risk of bans. Hundreds of municipalities were assigned trustees, completely removing the voting rights of a significant portion of the population.

According to Article 7.8 of the OSCE document, "there should be no legal or administrative barriers to the unfettered access of all political groups and individuals to the media on a non-discriminatory basis." However, the media monopoly by the government has become an accepted reality in Turkey.

Statistics published last week by RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı highlight this issue. TRT allocated nearly 2000 minutes of airtime to Erdoğan and the AKP in the past forty days, while allocating only 25 minutes to CHP and Özgür Özel. Other opposition leaders were completely censored. TRT, which is funded by public resources, never provides a platform for the opposition's faint voice.

As local elections approach, the government has already made it a habit to silence journalists and media personnel through legal methods. Especially the Kurdish media faced a new wave of detentions in İzmir this week. Five journalists from Mezopotamya Agency, Duvar, and JinNews, along with the press officer of the DEM Party, were detained. Currently, 28 journalists are in jail. With local elections just a month and a half away, these operations against the media make a democratic election with an independent media environment in Turkey impossible.

The last criterion of the OSCE pertains to the purpose of elections. According to Article 7.9 of the document: "Candidates who receive a sufficient number of votes as required by law shall be duly installed in office and allowed to remain in office...". Turkey's disregard for this principle was evident in 2016 when the opposition applauded the lifting of immunities of HDP deputies, followed by the Interior Minister replacing HDP mayors with trustees. However, it took until 2023, with the same injustice inflicted upon Can Atalay, for the opposition to raise their voice.

The internet and social media are also closed to the opposition. Freedom of expression on the internet has been suspended by standardized decisions issued by Peace Criminal Judges. Just last week, the Constitutional Court issued a landmark decision regarding internet access bans. The Supreme Court noted that banning content on the internet through standardized decisions has become an administrative practice and called on the Parliament to make the necessary legal amendments.

The right to assembly and demonstration marches has also been effectively removed by administrative decisions of governors and district governors. Unless you are organizing anti-LGBTI+ hate rallies, being detained at any protest is almost guaranteed. Lawsuits resulting from demonstrations against trustees, the Boğaziçi resistance, pride marches, and many other peaceful protests are clear examples of this.

The independence of the Supreme Election Council is no longer a matter of debate. The council exhausted all hope when it contradicted its own decision by validating unstamped ballots and cancelling the Istanbul elections.
In Turkey, the Supreme Election Council (YSK) acts as the referee of the election race. Its decisions are final and cannot be contested. It serves as both the referee and the owner of the playing field. The Council is responsible for managing the election and resolving election-related disputes. Of its 11 members, 4 are selected by the Council of State and the remaining 7 by the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation. The institution responsible for selecting the members of these two courts is the Board of Judges and Prosecutors, the majority of whose members are appointed by the President.

The independence of the Supreme Election Council is no longer a subject of debate. It lost all hope when it validated unstamped ballots contrary to its own decision and cancelled the Istanbul elections.

Despite being explicitly stated in the Constitution, Erdoğan's third candidacy was allowed, violating the Constitution, a decision the opposition did not even bring up. The opposition lacks a demand for a democratic election, and the violation of the Constitution's clear provision does not concern them. What mattered at that time was which party would receive which ministry. The opposition, distant from a demand for a democratic election, also faced disappointment in those elections.

Democratic elections are not among the opposition's demands. Faced with so many issues distancing the election process from democracy, the opposition has no slight demand. The opposition parties do not make any effort to have international mechanisms observe the process, making it impossible for them to achieve a change in power in a nationwide election.

However, the opposition does not care. Their policy is reduced to winning minor seats, focused narrowly on individual interests. We are entering an election process far removed from democracy, reduced to who will win which mayoralty or parliamentary seat.
Unless the opposition demands it, all elections in Turkey will continue to drift further from democracy. The opposition, thinking of achieving a democratic election by merely placing people at ballot stations and appointing lawyers to schools, needs to wake up and demand democratic and fair elections.


Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA) haber alma hakkı, ifade özgürlüğü ve basın özgürlüğü alanlarında faaliyet yürüten bir sivil toplum kuruluşudur. Derneğimiz başta gazeteciler olmak üzere mesleki faaliyetleri sebebiyle yargılanan kişilere hukuki destek vermektedir.