Turkey’s Democracy Blackout?

Marc Champion discusses the possibility that fraud was a factor in last weekend’s Turkish municipal elections:

The suspicions of many Turks were raised on election day, by a series of statistically improbable electricity blackouts that according to local news reports occurred in 40 cities across more than 20 Turkish provinces during Sunday’s vote count, in some cases forcing hand counts by candlelight.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has blamed a cat, which got into a substation and shorted out the electricity in Ankara. Other outages were caused by storms and snow, he said. Still, the image of a “lobby” of stray feline kamikazes fanning out across a country that stretches from Bulgaria to Iran to short electricity substations has gripped the imagination of Turkey’s social media users. Conspiracy theories are rampant.

Since then, the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has produced bags of discarded opposition ballots that it says were found in one constituency, as well as numerous discrepancies between written ballots and their digital entries elsewhere.

Dan Berman, however, doubts that a clean vote would have produced a significantly different outcome:

[I]f the AKP played dirty, and probably stole some of the key close races, the overall picture is neither as implausible as that in Iran, nor as easily explained by the irregularities that appear to take place. Despite the failure of the official website, results were released to the media in real-time, and despite high opposition expectations, at a national level fell at about the middle point of the expected range of results, with the AKP managing between 43% and 44% at about the median of its performance in the last local polls in 2009, and the National Assembly elections of 2011. As a consequence, while I have doubts that the elections were fair, and even less confidence in the Ankara and Antalya results, I have almost no doubt that a plurality of Turks who went to the polls on Sunday cast their ballots for the AKP, and I strongly suspect the same was true in Istanbul, where the final margin, over 700,0000 votes out of 7 million cast, seems large enough to render redundant the tactics used to achieve it.

But Lisel Hintz views the manipulation as part of a bigger problem:

From foreign spies to terrorists to necrophiliacs, being in the opposition camp in Turkey doesn’t look pretty. This delegitimizing rhetoric appeared again during the elections, with Erdogan deeming opposition forces “worse than Assassins,” referring to medieval groups that would murder their rivals to produce instability. It is this factor – the absolute unwillingness by Erdogan and his government to attribute legitimacy to any form of opposition – that best explains the electoral manipulation Turkey is experiencing. For a prime minister who declared to those objecting to his style of rule during Gezi: “We will see at the ballot box,” there was no room for allowing an opposition he can’t comprehend or respect to take the seats of power in key cities such as Ankara and Istanbul. His victory speech, vowing that those who opposed him will “pay the price,” was positively chilling in this respect.

On a larger scale than the electoral irregularities and their ongoing contestation, it is this larger issue of legitimacy of opposition, and the knee-jerk reaction of demonizing anyone that defies or disagrees with the AKP’s will that poses the greatest obstacle to democratization in Turkey.

Earlier Dish on Turkey’s elections here.