Turkey's Democracy in Crisis: The Absence of Fair Elections and Opposition Demands

Turkey's Democracy in Crisis: The Absence of Fair Elections and Opposition Demands


As Turkey approaches its election process, the focus is narrowly defined by who will win various mayoral and parliamentary positions, a perspective far from embodying true democratic principles. Without demands from the opposition, Turkish elections will continue to drift further from democratic norms.

No concerns were raised by the opposition regarding the integrity of the ballot in the 2023 Presidential elections. In fact, they stated that, barring minor irregularities, ballot security was maintained.

However, the process leading up to the casting of votes was far from democratic, despite the ballots themselves being counted correctly. Surprisingly, and perhaps more concerning, there have been no demands or objections from the opposition to democratize the election process.

The current opposition and government, reducing democracy to elections and elections merely to ballot security, appear unlikely to win an election that could change the central power under current conditions.

This is the stark reality.

Meeting international criteria for a democratic election requires fulfilling numerous standards.

According to the 1990 Copenhagen Document, to which Turkey is a signatory, elections must adhere to specific criteria: conducting elections in a free environment, non-discrimination in candidacies and voting, the right to form political parties and their equal right to compete, conducting election campaigns in a free and fair environment, unrestricted media access for candidates, and allowing elected officials to assume their duties.

However, Turkey is far from meeting these criteria.

At the core of these standards lies the necessity of ensuring a level playing field for all candidates. In Turkey, the power of government-controlled public resources, media, and capital creates conditions far from equal, hardly allowing the opposition a fair chance.

In a media landscape where 95% is controlled by pro-government capital, the opposition struggles to make its faint voice heard in the limited space available.

Violations of the Copenhagen Document's Article 7.5, regarding legal infrastructure for the formation of political parties and equal competition conditions, are evident in the treatment of the Kurdish political movement. In Turkey's political history, the Kurdish political movement has been engaged in political struggle under the shadow of party closure lawsuits.

During the last elections, hundreds of HDP politicians participated under the threat of bans. Hundreds of municipalities were assigned trustees, effectively eliminating a significant portion of the population's voting rights.

According to OSCE's Copenhagen Document, Article 7.8 states that "all political groups and individuals wishing to participate in the election process should have unhindered access to media on a non-discriminatory basis." However, the media monopoly by the ruling power in Turkey is a well-accepted norm.

Statistics released last week by RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı illustrate this point clearly. In the last forty days, TRT gave nearly 2000 minutes of airtime to Erdoğan and the AKP, while allocating only 25 minutes to CHP and Özgür Özel. Other opposition leaders have been completely censored. TRT, surviving on public funds, never provides a platform for the weak opposition voice.

The Turkish government has already established a tradition of silencing journalists and media personnel through legal methods. Particularly, the Kurdish media faced a new wave of arrests just this week in Izmir. Five journalists from Mezopotamya Agency, Duvar, JinNews, and the press officer of the DEM Party were detained. Currently, 28 journalists remain imprisoned. The recent operations against the media, just a month and a half before local elections, make the prospect of a democratic election with an independent media environment in Turkey impossible.

OSCE criteria also emphasize the essence of elections. According to the document's Article 7.9: "Candidates who obtain a sufficient number of votes as required by law should be properly appointed to their positions and allowed to remain in office…" Turkey disregarded this principle, first with the lifting of HDP politicians' immunity amidst opposition applause, and then with the 2016 appointment of trustees in place of elected HDP mayors. However, the opposition remained silent until 2023 when Can Atalay faced similar injustice.

Internet and social media are also closed off to the opposition.

Freedom of expression on the internet has been suspended through standardized decisions by Peace Criminal Judgeships. Just last week, the Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling on internet access bans, noting that banning online content through standard decisions has become an administrative practice and calling on the Turkish Parliament to make necessary legislative changes.

The right to assembly and demonstration marches has been effectively eliminated through administrative decisions. If you're not organizing anti-LGBT+ hate rallies, any protest is likely to result in detention. Lawsuits from demonstrations against trustees, Boğaziçi resistance, pride marches, and more, are prime examples.

The independence of the Supreme Election Board is no longer a matter of debate. Contradicting its own decision by validating unstamped ballots, the Board extinguished all hopes when it canceled

the Istanbul elections.

Turkey's election judiciary: A game where the referee is appointed by the competitor

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) in Turkey acts as the referee of the election race. Its decisions are final and indisputable. The YSK is responsible for both administering elections and resolving election-related disputes. Its 11 members are selected by the Council of State and the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation. However, the majority of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, responsible for selecting these courts' members, is appointed by the President.

The Supreme Election Board's independence is no longer a subject of discussion. The Board lost all credibility when it invalidated its own decision by accepting unstamped ballots and then canceled the Istanbul elections.

Despite clear constitutional provisions, the opposition did not even make an issue of Erdoğan's third candidacy, blatantly violating the Constitution. The opposition's lack of demand for a democratic election, let alone concern for constitutional violations, was apparent. The focus was instead on which ministry each party would receive. The opposition faced defeat in those elections due to its detachment from democratic election demands.

Democratic elections are not among the opposition's demands.

In the face of these numerous issues distancing Turkey's election process from democracy, the opposition has no demands. Without any initiative to involve international mechanisms in observing the process, it is unlikely that opposition parties can achieve a change of power in a nationwide election.

However, this seems of little concern to the opposition. Their policy is reduced to winning minor seats, narrow and focused on individual interests. We are entering an election process far from democratic, reduced to who wins which mayoral and parliamentary seats.

Unless the opposition demands otherwise, all elections in Turkey will continue to move further from democracy. The opposition, thinking they can achieve a democratic election merely by stationing people at polling stations and appointing lawyers to schools, needs to wake up and demand democratic and equal 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.