Who is the Real Winner of Turkey’s Elections: The Role of Civil Society in November Elections

Who is the Real Winner of Turkey’s Elections:
The Role of Civil Society in November Elections

Abstract

The early elections of November 2015 in Turkey have garnered both domestic and international interest. This opinion piece discusses the role of civil society during this critical period with regards to one specific civil society organisation: Oy ve Ötesi. The organisation scheme and activities of Oy ve Ötesi, a large non-governmental organisation, are explained in detail with regards to their role in Turkish politics and the latest elections. The piece concludes that with the increasing role of communication and the growing importance of Oy ve Ötesi in Turkish politics, the interest of civil society is the true victor of these elections.

***

You may have stumbled upon news on the most recent Turkish elections and you probably know the results. News on the most recent Turkish elections was nearly unavoidable. It has been discussed in much detail from many different aspects. However, regardless of the political results of the elections and their impact on Turkey in the forthcoming years, I believe the real winner of the elections is not a political party but rather a non-governmental organisation. Oy ve Ötesi (Vote and Beyond)[1] is an impartial NGO that prides itself for being equally distant to all political parties and aims at supplying a democratic and transparent electoral process. Founded by a group of eight volunteers, Oy ve Ötesi has facilitated the participation of more than 60,000 volunteers for the November elections.[2]

In its short life-span, the group has already worked actively in four elections, the November 2015 elections became the elections with the most active participation so far. For their first election, the local elections of 2014, the group managed to gather 26,500 volunteers and limited its activities solely to İstanbul due to logistical capacity and inexperience. The result of the election did not change the local government cadres. The previous elected mayor once again won the majority of votes and started his next 5-year term. The expected change was not in the result then, but rather was in the process. In his TED talk,[3] Sercan Çelebi, the spokesperson of Oy ve Ötesi explains the significance of the process: “The results did not change. The map of İstanbul was the same. It seemed like nothing has changed. However, in reality everything has changed. 26,000 thousand people had demolished the wall of fear, the wall of apathy, the wall of inactivity solely by taking an active role.” He states that this participation showed civil society that a third way, aside from working through a political party and being inactive, was actually possible. This change in process saw the organisation of thousands of people around a positive common goal, which was not motivated by a rejection based stand but rather was aimed at improving the existing system. Çelebi further stated that as the walls of immobility shattered among people working towards a positive goal; the walls among different societal strata can also be shattered.

When the election in Yalova was repeated with the decision of Supreme Electoral Council, the group managed to mobilise more than 300 volunteers to take part. For the presidential elections in August 2014, Oy ve Ötesi managed to establish volunteer groups in six different Turkish cities: İstanbul, Ankara, Adana, Bursa, İzmir and Antalya. This was also the first election that they tried their record confirmation software[4] (Türkiye Tutanak Teyit Sistemi) (T3). During the presidential elections, Oy ve Ötesi managed to supervise more than 20,000 ballot boxes. They had also recently published a detailed report on the 7th of June, 2015 elections.  The June elections catalysed a series of events in Turkey. With the pro-Kurdish Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) (HDP) success in crossing the 10% threshold and the changing distribution of seats in parliament, the thirteen-year long period of single party government had finally come to an end. Subsequent negotiations between political parties were fruitless in the given legal period and an interim government was established. This interim government led the country into the November re-elections. The sudden nature of the election did not discourage the volunteers from exercising their democratic observation rights. As of 30th of October, more than 65,000 volunteers had signed up to be a part of Oy ve Ötesi.

As a young Turkish citizen who has recently moved back to İstanbul, I was enthusiastic to volunteer at elections and witness the rapidly growing Oy ve Ötesi phenomenon with my own eyes. I was following their work through their social media channels and knew that they had managed to work in 46 different cities with 55,000 volunteers for the June elections[5]. Throughout their T3 system, which I have also volunteered for at June elections, Oy ve Ötesi have managed to confirm 74% of all the ballot box records of Turkey. Hence, when they opened their online system for volunteer registrations for the November elections on September 17th, I signed up immediately and discovered, to my delight, that two of the three schools in my neighbourhood were already full. For those who are not familiar with the system, I want to explain the organisational scheme of Oy ve Ötesi and the volunteering options. A volunteer can take on different roles according to their preference, training and time but essentially all the volunteers are ballot box observers and receive their training accordingly. According to article 19 of Circular 135,[6] the participating political parties and independent candidates have the right to assign observers to the ballot boxes. Establishing a dialogue with all political parties, Oy ve Ötesi manages to distribute observer cards from all interested parties to their volunteers. The observers, as their title suggests, observe the electoral process, inform the voters and the electoral board of the voting area on their rights and restrictions. Being informed about their rights and limitations and exercising their legal right of objection when misconduct arises are the main roles of the observers during the electoral process.

For the June elections, Oy ve Ötesi organised 522 hours of training, informing more than 50,000 people on their constitutional rights and duties. I had the chance to attend more than four training sessions solely in the last preparation process and the one three days before the elections had more than 700 attendees alone. An organisation this large requires meticulous planning not only to function but also to keep up with its fundamental standards. Oy ve Ötesi prides itself on its main principles; transparency and impartiality. The downward information flow among the volunteers is kept goal-oriented through these principles. Consider the observers as the basic unit of organisation: as the observer receives updates from the building supervisor, the building supervisor from borough supervisor and the chain continues. Considering this NGO only has two professional employees and the rest of the organisation is conducted solely by volunteers, this organisational scheme is a main contributor to the success of Oy ve Ötesi. Starting from a handful of volunteers in only one city, the organisation has managed to expand its area of influence to 43 cities.

This sort of success story does not go unnoticed in the general public. Browsing the social media channels of Oy ve Ötesi, it is possible to encounter rumours and negative propaganda especially on the resources of the NGO. And yet, a verified due diligence report prepared by the independent auditing company, KPMG, covering all the monetary transactions within the NGO is accessible through their website.[7] The constant rumours circling on the ‘secret international connections’ of the NGO are evidently refuted by the report. There are only two international benefactors currently donating resources to Oy ve Ötesi. The first is the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Turkey, within their programme titled MATRA and Human Rights Programme which aims at increasing local governance. The second is the Consulate General of Sweden within the cooperation programme by the Turkish-Swedish Development Cooperation.[8] The allocation of all the funds received by these institutions is in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Association. The report prepared by KPMG is very detailed on expenditure articles, domestic donations and membership fees, and can be consulted for further detail.

The increasing interest in Oy ve Ötesi most certainly continued on the Election Day and the following two days. Now, with my personal experience as a building supervisor, I want to express my approval regarding Çelebi’s ideal of shattering walls of incommunicado. Having a legally correct and smooth election process for all participants made it possible to communicate with many different people throughout the day, since no one was pre-occupied with electoral tension. I was at my building at 6:30 am and left it after 13 hours of active duty. The elections start at 7 am in eastern cities and at 8 am in western cities. The ballot boxes close at 4 pm and 5 pm, respectively.[9] Having a stamped and signed copy of the ballot box record is essential to compare the results with official announcements and apply for objections if necessary. As a building supervisor I have personally visited every room to meet with the supervision boards in person; and have met everyone who was working in that building. I had the Circular 135 in one hand and my smartphone in the other, constantly communicating with the rest of my neighbourhood. Oy ve Ötesi’s communication chain includes lawyers, building supervisors and ballot box observers, allowing the volunteers to respond to any rising situation or question simultaneously. It is possible to claim being a part of this extensive chain allows the volunteers to be more proactive during the election day. The stamped and signed ballot box records collected by the volunteers are scanned and made public by Oy ve Ötesi for the T3 comparison system. These records are essential for the two-day period following the elections as they provide the legal basis for any objection. According to the Yüksek Seçim Kurulu (Supreme Electoral Council) (YSK), political parties have a two day objection period during which they can apply for further examination of problematic results.[10] Therefore, the two days following the elections are critical. The T3 system I mentioned earlier was active during this election and the online volunteers registered 195,606 ballot box records starting the night of the elections.[11] The results showed a mismatch of 0.02% between the officially announced results and registered records, stating the mismatch is not statistically significant to change the result or show an unlawful application.[12]

Overall, I am still persistent in my claim that Oy ve Ötesi is the true victor of the recent elections. Their active participation in nearly all towns in Turkey and their active work on registering votes post-elections solely for the purpose of defeating any shadows of doubt being cast over the election results made Oy ve Ötesi the real winner. Much can be said for Turkish politics, the results, the days to come and all these aspects would have different viewpoints. However, it is indisputable that this increasing civil participation in daily politics is starting a different chapter in the history of Turkish politics.

Özgecan Atasoy, MA in Comparative Studies in History and Society, Koç University, İstanbul

Please cite this publication as follows:

Atasoy, Ö. (November, 2015), “Who is the Real Winner of Turkey’s Elections: The Role of Civil Society in November Elections” Vol. IV, Issue 11, pp.58-64, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=10128)

Endnotes

[1] Oy ve Ötesi website. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/

[2] Oy ve Ötesi seçim sonuç değerlendirmeleri. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/1-kasim-2015-genel-secimleri/1-kasim-2015-secim-sonuc-degerlendirmeleri/

[3] Ted Talk with Sercan Çelebi. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://www.tedxreset.com/videos/121

[4] 10 Ağustos Cumhurbaşkanlığı Seçimleri, [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/gecmis-secimler/

[5] 7 Haziran Seçim Değerlendirme Raporu, [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/gecmis-secimler/7-haziran-2015-genel-secimler/7-haziran-2015-genel-secimleri-degerlendirme-raporu/

[6] YSK Genelge. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://www.ysk.gov.tr/ysk/docs/genelge/2011Pdf/2011-Ornek135.pdf

[7] Oy ve Ötesi Denetim Raporu. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Oy-ve-Ötesi-İmzalı-Rapor.pdf

[8] Oy ve Ötesi Denetim Raporu. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Oy-ve-Ötesi-İmzalı-Rapor.pdf

[9] Article 30. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://www.ysk.gov.tr/ysk/docs/genelge/2011Pdf/2011-Ornek135.pdf

[10] Article 49. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://www.ysk.gov.tr/ysk/docs/genelge/2011Pdf/2011-Ornek135.pdf

[11] 1 Kasım 2015 Genel Seçim Sonuç Değerlendirmeleri. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/1-kasim-2015-genel-secimleri/1-kasim-2015-secim-sonuc-degerlendirmeleri/

[12] 1 Kasım 2015 Genel Seçim Sonuç Değerlendirmeleri. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

http://oyveotesi.org/1-kasim-2015-genel-secimleri/1-kasim-2015-secim-sonuc-degerlendirmeleri/

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