Istanbul Mayoral Elections (II): CHP for Democracy or Democracy for CHP?

May 14, 2019

The CHP is the only unrivaled political party in Turkey in objecting to the election results. Since 1946, when the multi-party system had just been introduced, it has become almost traditional for the party to blame each winning party for gerrymandering and the electorate for being ignorant and stupid in every election.
Chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu makes a speech during a meeting with mukhtars (heads of Turkish villages and neighbourhoods) in Ankara, Turkey on March 07, 2019. Anadolu Agency

As Ekrem Imamoglu was awarded the election certificate of Istanbul mayoral election 17 days after the election and preparing to take the mayor’s office, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) filed an extraordinary objection to the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to interrogate the question posed by the AK Party’s mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim: “Why did the number of votes I received increase by 16 thousand after 10 percent of the ballots were recounted and the vote difference between the two of us fell to 13.729?” In the petition presented to the YSK, the cancellation and renewal of the Istanbul metropolitan mayoral election was requested on the grounds of “the unlawfulness and the closing gap in the vote difference between the two parties as a result of the incidents and circumstances effective in the results and impartialness of the election.”

According to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chair and spokesperson Faik Oztrak: “AK Party’s objection comprised the re-submission of the subjects already resolved by the YSK rather than the incidents and circumstances effective in the election results and impartialness.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Whether we like it or not, the YSK is authorized to rule the final decision.” Then, both sides have issued various statements, harsh or reasonable, on what the YSK ruling must be.

Eventually, the YSK ruled its final decision with 7 out of 11 votes. The Council found the AK Party’s objection right and decided for the rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election on June 23. In light of the AK Party’s objections, it was ruled that “225 balloting committee leads and 3.500 balloting committee members were found to be not employed by the government despite the explicit provision in the election law and the ballots cast in these ballot boxes were effective in the vote difference.” The YSK also ruled for “filing criminal complaint against the district electoral board chairs and members and ballot board leads who made unlawful assignments.”

A storm was raised after that point. The CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu declared the list of the judges who opted for “yes” in the YSK ruling, saying: “The YSK has become the address of injustice, unlawfulness, inequality and remorselessness. They cannot usurp democracy, justice and rights by hiding behind their juridical titles.” These words that target the YSK caused reaction from the institution. This time, the YSK issued a statement on behalf of all its members, not referring to the decision given with 7 out of 11 votes. The statement condemned all the remarks that contained threats and insults and pointed out that “it is unacceptable to personally target or defame the judges due to their decisions.

The YSK, which was founded in Turkey in 1950 and has been responsible for the general conduct and supervision of elections, has always performed this duty honorably.

Nevertheless, the YSK, which was founded in Turkey in 1950 and has been responsible for the general conduct and supervision of elections since then, has always performed this duty honorably. Even during the period of military tutelage that started in the early Republican period and continued until quite recently, the parties not favored by the system could manifest themselves in elections and managed to come to power. These parties were tried to be rendered ineffective with innumerable methods with the support or direct appeal of the CHP or through the judiciary, the most important leg of the tutelage regime. There are at least 50 different examples of this for the past 50 years.

The parties upholding Muslim conservative traditions, such as late Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party, Virtue Party, and pro-Kurdish parties such as the Democracy Party (DEP), the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were closed. Their governments were dissolved with coups while their political leaders were imprisoned. Despite all, the one with popular support has always been obvious. Late Adnan Menderes’ Democrat Party (Menderes was executed during the 27 May, 1960, coup with the support of the CHP), Erbakan’s Welfare Party (On 28 February, 1997, the party’s government was overthrown with a coup supported by the CHP, the party was closed, and its leader and members were banned from politics), and Erdogan’s AK Party have confronted various closure cases, memorandums, and cancelled elections ever since their establishment. But still, they won the elections thanks to the healthy functioning of the election mechanism.

So, in such an order, the CHP is the only unrivaled party in Turkey in objecting to the election results. The party filed its first objection in 1946, when the multi-party system had just been introduced, in an election environment based on “open vote, secret counting.” Since then, it has become almost traditional for the party to blame each winning party for gerrymandering and the electorate for being ignorant and stupid in every election. The CHP has also lately claimed that President Erdogan’s presidency is illegitimate irrespective of the fact that he was elected president in the first round of elections with a 52 percent vote share.

In the 2014 local election, the mayoral elections in 14 places, including Yalova and Agri, were renewed with a YSK decision. In the renewed Yalova election, the municipality changed from the AK Party to the CHP.

Of course, throughout history, a number of parties objected to election results in Turkey with claims of “errors and irregularities,” which can be been observed in every corner of the world, including the U.S. and Europe. The objections were answered in accordance with the popular will within a system that thoroughly examines each determinant within the laws. In the 2014 local election, the mayoral elections in 14 places, including Yalova and Agri provinces, were renewed with a YSK decision. In the renewed Yalova election, in which 75.813 voters cast ballots, the municipality changed from the AK Party to the CHP. The same year, BDP (former name of today’s Peoples’ Democratic Party-HDP) candidate Sirri Sakik won the Agrı mayoral election by receiving only 10 more votes, to which AK Party objected with the claim of irregularities. Agri provincial electoral board ruled for the recount of some ballot boxes. The provincial electoral board also accepted the BDP’s objection and the election was rerun. Sakik was elected as Agri mayor in the renewed election by increasing the vote difference from 10 to 2851. In a nutshell, the system always functioned in favor of the people’s will.

Despite this history, the CHP has been voicing claims that democracy suffered a blow since the announcement of the YSK’s decision to cancel and renew the Istanbul mayoral election. This is not a surprise, neither the reactions from the West. But the most curious reaction came from former President and AK Party co-founder Abdullah Gul, who tweeted: “What I felt in 2007 when the Constitutional Court made its unfair 367 ruling, that is what I felt yesterday when another high court, the Supreme Election Council, made its decision.” What was the 367 ruling? Are these two incidents really similar? Although Gul’s motivation was different while saying these words, he activated Turkish society’s collective memory on the subject of coups against democracy amid the CHP’s claims of “unfair elections, blow on democracy.”

The 367 ruling: what happened in 2007?

According to Article No 102 of the Turkish Constitution at the time, the president could be elected with a maximum of four parliamentary rounds of voting. The decisional quorum was a qualified majority of two-thirds (367 votes) of full membership for the first two rounds, and an absolute majority (267 votes) for the third and fourth rounds. In an interview he gave to Cumhuriyet newspaper on 26 December, 2006, former Supreme Court of Appeal prosecutor Sabih Kanadoglu argued that the qualified majority of 367 votes was not only the decisional quorum but was also the necessary quorum for the opening of the session, claiming that the decision would be invalid unless at least 367 parliament members attend the voting. Following him, then Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukanit said that he hoped the next president would be faithful to the republic not only in words but in deeds.

While Kemalism rallies were organized all over the country and the media covered a slew of threat messages that instilled fear, then Prime Minister Erdogan decided not to run for president. In other words, the leader of the party that enjoys the largest popular support in Turkey could not run for president in this atmosphere of pressure and nominated Abdullah Gul instead. The first round of the elections was held on 27 April, 2007. There were two parties in the parliament at the time. The CHP did not attend the session, 357 votes were cast, and Gul received 352. Following the voting, in spite of the explicit constitutional article that is comprehensible for any literate person, the CHP appealed to the Constitutional Court for the objection of the election with the 367-ruling argument. In the evening of the same day, a press release that would later be referred as “e-memorandum” was published on the official website of the General Staff, which stated that Gul’s candidacy was not wished. With its decision issued on May 1, the Constitutional Court ruled the presence of at least 367 parliament members in the Plenary Session, and cancelled the first round of the parliamentary voting. So, the relevant constitutional article, despite its explicitness, was violated by the Constitutional Court due to the pressure of the military and the appeal of the CHP.

Upon that, the AK Party decided for an early election and 27 June, 2007, was determined as the election date. The ruling party won the election by receiving 47 percent of the vote. But although it was de-facto against the constitution, there was a scandalous condition that ruled: “367 parliament members must attend the session.” The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) entered the Parliament by exceeding the election threshold in the early election. The crisis was eventually solved when MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said: “The AK Party can nominate whomever it wishes. As we have entered the Parliament, the 367 obstacle will be overcome.” Receiving 341 votes in the first round and 337 votes in the second round, Abdullah Gul was elected as the 11th president of Turkey by receiving 339 votes in the third round of the parliamentary voting, which was attended by 448 parliamentarians.

Of course, there is no similarity between the “367 ruling” and “the decision of rerunning the elections upon the objection appeals of a political party on the grounds of irregularities.” What really matters is the motivation of the CHP leader Kilicdaroglu, who once signed that scandalous appeal. Enjoying the support of the military and the judiciary at the time, the CHP organized secularism rallies, threatened people and made the election cancelled by appealing to the Constitutional Court despite its 19.2 percent vote share. The discrepancy between the two cases is evident but Kilicdaroglu insists on ignoring this. There is one more sentence in Gul’s tweet: “We haven’t made any progress since then.” Of course, Gul uttered this remark by targeting the AK Party, with which he parted ways a long time ago, but his words allowed the CHP an opportunity to give an account of a past deed. While even the former president from the AK Party, whose presidency was once hampered through illegitimate ways, is siding with the CHP now (the party even offered him presidential candidacy for the 2018 elections), the CHP must issue an explanation at least for the 367 ruling even if they cannot explain or justify what they have done against democracy throughout the Republican history. Then we may make progress.

Kılıçkaya worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers. In 1992 she moved to Paris and completed her studies in International Relations. After returning to Turkey in 2009, Kılıçkaya started working for Habertürk. In 2016, she formed a three-part documentary on DAESH.