Congress observer delegation calls on Turkey to seize the opportunity of local elections to continue normalisation and enhance local democracy

Speaking at a press conference after the local elections held in Turkey on 31 March, the Head of the delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Andrew DAWSON (United Kingdom, ECR), presented preliminary conclusions in Ankara.  “Our observation mission comprised 22 observers from 20 different European countries who witnessed voting taking place in around 140 polling stations throughout Turkey including Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Adana, Erzurum and Diyarbakir.”

“Apart from some isolated inconsistencies observed, the Ballot Box Committees performed their technical, and procedural tasks competently. Without in any way minimising the tragedy of deaths which overshadowed the Election Day, we note that the elections were conducted in an orderly way,” he said highlighting the high turnout rate of 84%, the broad choice of political parties, as well as the technical proficiency of the election at all levels from the Supreme Election Council down to the individual Ballot Box Committees.

“However, sound election administration and technical skills implementing the law are only parts of the overall picture that makes up the assessment of elections,” underlined the Head of Delegation. “In order to assess elections as being genuinely democratic and in accordance with the Council of Europe principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights, it needs more: a political environment where there is genuine freedom of expression, an atmosphere where media freedom is absolutely ensured, equal access for all parties running in elections to the media, a fair and reasonable legal framework overseen by a robust judiciary”, he explained.

“That legal framework, and this is essential for us from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, must allow locally elected representatives to exercise their political mandate – freely and without fear of accusations and repressions for supposed terrorist connections,” he added noting that Turkey’s definition of terrorism was not consistent with Council of Europe standards, notably the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

“We from the Congress of the Council of Europe are not fully convinced that Turkey currently has the free and fair electoral environment which is necessary for genuinely democratic elections in line with European values and principles. But we do take the fact that many parties have been successful as a positive sign of Turkey’s democratic resilience,” he stressed.

Regarding the Kurdish question, the Head of Delegation mentioned the Recommendation adopted by the Congress in 2017 which urged the Turkish authorities to restrict the measures on government appointing trustees and to restore the capacity of Municipal Councils to chose for themselves a suitable replacement mayor in cases where a mayor is removed or suspended from office.

“We call on the Turkish authorities to take the 31 March local elections as an opportunity to alter course and continue normalisation. The local representatives elected yesterday must be able to exercise their mandate freely and in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government of the Congress of the Council of Europe to which Turkey is a Party, » stated the Head of Delegation. “These elections are a chance for the full reinstatement of the principle of direct democratic mandate in Turkey: please seize this opportunity,” Andrew DAWSON concluded.