Judges in Turkey evaluating appeals after last Sunday’s local elections must be free to work without political interference, said the Council of Europe’s congress of local and regional authorities in a statement on Thursday.
Turks headed to the polls on March 31 to elect their local governments. The unofficial results showed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) facing a major blow after losing in four out of five major provinces in Turkey, including Istanbul and Ankara.
The AKP has requested recounts of votes in Istanbul and Ankara, while the Supreme Election Board (YSK) rejected similar appeals by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in the eastern province of Muş and in several predominantly Kurdish districts.
“We acknowledge the challenging or recounting of votes in the case of tight election results. Such challenges are rare and normally only involve a handful of votes in very few places,” the Council of Europe’s Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities said on Thursday during its 36th plenary session in Strasbourg.
“When challenges are made relating to many thousands of votes in many places questions inevitably arise about the integrity of the entire election process,” it said.
The bureau said it had decided to take the exceptional step of continuing its oversight of the Turkish local government elections while challenges are ongoing, and called on Turkish authorities to ensure that the YSK and its district level boards carry out their work in an open and transparent manner.
“We expect their work to be fully in compliance with international norms and standards, free from any and all inappropriate political interference and consistent with the rule of law. Their work must be lawful, open and transparent and their adjudications fair reasonable and honest. The judges must be free to work without interference,” it said.
A 22-member delegation from the Council of Europe monitored Turkey’s March 31 local elections with observer missions at 140 polling places and presented its preliminary conclusions on Monday at a press conference in Ankara, urging the Turkish government to encourage freedom of expression, unfettered media access for political candidates and a stronger electoral legal framework.
The spokesperson of Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hami Aksoy, said on Wednesday in a written statement that the congress’s election mission should refrain from commenting on Turkey’s political issues that are outside its mandate.
The Bureau of the Congress said on Thursday that sovereignty of the people meant that the public could vote in a reasonable and fair political climate and see that their political and democratic choices and decisions were fully respected.
“This means that, whenever the Congress observes an election, we are interested in far more than the organisation and mechanics of voting on the Election Day including the media landscape, the campaign and political environment and freedom of expression in general,” it said.
The Party of European Socialists (PES) also urged the AKP on Thursday to accept the result of the local elections .
PES President Sergei Stanishev said there was no reason to challenge the results in Istanbul, adding that 16 million people living in the province had made their voice and elected opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu as the new mayor.
“We call on the Turkish government to refrain from any political pressure on judges,” Stanishev said. “The government must recognise the results the YSK has already announced, rather than looking for ways to distort the results, which are clear for the international community.”