Turkish people went to the polls on Sunday, April 16 to vote in a referendum on changes to their constitution that would hand increased powers to current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The “Yes” camp won by a slim majority. However, the “No” camp has cried foul, claiming that the elections were rigged, and pointing to numerous videos, widely shared on social media, that appear to show voter fraud and ballot-box stuffing.
According to official results, the “Yes” camp won with 51.41 percent of votes while the “No” camp got 48.59 percent. The turnout was recorded at 8 percent, a higher number than usual for Turkish elections.
However, numerous videos seem to reveal voting irregularities, and even, in some cases, fraud. The main opposition party – the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – has demanded that authorities discount votes from polling places where these irregularities seem to have occurred.
The videos show ballots that were printed for this election, which mean that they can’t have been filmed during other elections. The FRANCE 24 Observers newsroom was able to verify the location of the polling places shown in these videos by cross-checking sources.
Ballot-box stuffing in Muş
In a video shared thousands of times on Twitter, Mehmet Koçlardan, a village chief who belongs to the AKP (the Justice and Development Party, President Erdogan’s party), follows a voter into a polling booth. They come out together and then drop five ballots into the ballot box at the same time. The man filming tries to remain discreet by continuing his conversation with someone as he simultaneously captures the ballot-box stuffing on camera.
The centre-left daily newspaper Sözcü said that the video was likely filmed at a polling station in the village Çatbaşı in Muş, a province in the east of the country. After the video was posted on social media, CHP deputy Eren Erdem said that he would demand that votes from this polling place be discounted. In the Merkez district where Çatbaşı is located, 60 percent of votes went to the “Yes” camp.
This instance of ballot-box stuffing was noted on an interactive map (above) that listed reports of voting irregularities. The map was updated live by Turkish media Sosyal Kafa, in partnership with a group of students from Istanbul’s Bilgi University. On Monday, about a hundred different irregularities were listed on the map.
Voting booths should “provide freedom and confidentiality of voting” and, within the booth, a voter should fill out his or her ballot “without assistance of any other person", according to Article 75 of Turkish electoral law (translated by the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security organisation.)
“Which is it? Yes?” the pollworker asks the woman, who answers in the affirmative. This scene was filmed in Sorgun, a town in Yozgat, a province in central Anatolia.
“In Sorgun, Yozgat, we vote in a car,” narrates the person filming the video.
Teyit, an investigative Turkish website specialised in fact-checking, spoke to the local Electoral Council about this video and reported that the Council claimed this vote took place outside of the polling station because the voter had reduced mobility. According to the CHP, between ten and fifteen similar irregularities occurred at this polling place.
Ballots stamped one after another
As it was a referendum rather than a political election, voting worked differently. Each voter was supplied with one voting form about the proposed changes, with "Yes" on one side, and "No" on the other. Voters were required to stamp on the side of the voting form that corresponded with their choice.
In this video, a pollworker stamps "Yes" on several ballots in a row ("yes" is "evet" in Turkish).
In the district where the video was filmed, more than 82 percent of votes went to the “Yes” camp.
"Many ballots and envelopes were given to one single person. (…) We also have a WhatsApp conversation that shows the pressure put on pollworkers (…). We have brought this to the attention of the YSK", said the administrators of the Facebook page that first published this video [Editors’s note: The YSK is the Supreme Electoral Council, Turkey’s highest electoral authority].
This is one of the most widely shared videos, but it doesn’t offer absolute proof of fraud. First, nothing proves that the person then actually went ahead and put these falsified ballot papers into the ballot box. Several people on social media also pointed out that there is little chance that this alleged fraud would have worked because there are a predetermined number of voters registered at each polling station.
The person may have just made this video as a practical joke, or to cause controversy – but whatever the reason, the action captured on camera is still illegal.
The two parties ended election night in the streets. In Ankara, those who supported the “Yes” vote celebrated their victory, but in other large cities across the country, hundreds of activists from opposition parties protested the results, accusing the government of having cheated with the complicity of the YSK, Turkey’s highest electoral authority.
The YSK was also criticised for having changed the voting rules even while the election was still under way.
Voters were initially required to stamp their ballot and then place it inside an envelope, which would be sealed with an official seal before being placed in the ballot box. However, around 5pm, when polls were closing, the YSK announced that it had decided to consider unsealed ballots as valid unless they were proved to be fraudulent, after many complaints that its officials had failed to seal some ballot papers.
However, the opposition claimed that this decision could have made it easier to cheat.
According to provisional results given on April 17, the day after the election, the difference between the “yes” and the “no” was a mere 1.38 million votes.
The HDP, the second opposition party, declared that it objected to two-thirds of ballots.