Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Although the constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot, the government restricted equal competition and placed restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression. The government restricted the activities of some opposition political parties and leaders, including through police detention. Several parliamentarians remained at risk of possible prosecution after parliament lifted their immunity in 2016. During the year, the state of emergency impacted the ability of many, particularly among the opposition, to conduct political activities, such as organizing protests or political campaign events and sharing critical messages on social media. The government also replaced democratically elected mayors in 104 cities with state “trustees” when the former were accused of affiliation with terrorist groups. These tactics were most commonly directed against politicians affiliated with the pro-Kurdish HDP and its partner party, the DBP.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held early parliamentary and presidential elections, which had been originally scheduled for late 2019, on June 24. The elections completed a constitutional amendment process that began with the April 2017 national referendum, the passing of which initiated the country’s official transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.
The campaign and election both occurred under a state of emergency that had been in place since 2016 and which granted the government expanded powers to restrict basic rights and freedoms, including those of assembly and speech. Most candidates were generally able to campaign ahead of the June 24 elections–however the HDP’s candidate remained in prison during the campaign and the candidate for the IYI (“Good”) Party faced a de facto media embargo. Despite the ability to campaign, the OSCE’s Election Observation Mission noted the elections were held in an environment heavily tilted in favor of the president and the ruling party, noting “the incumbent president and his party enjoyed a notable advantage in the campaign, which was also reflected in excessive coverage by public and government-affiliated private media.”
Media coverage of the candidates overwhelmingly favored the president and ruling party. For example, according to a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council, Turkey’s state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning broadcasts, between May 14-30, state-run TRT broadcast 67 hours of coverage about President Erdogan, seven hours about CHP candidate Muharrem Ince, 12 minutes about IYI candidate Meral Aksener, eight minutes about Felicity Party candidate Temel Karamanoglu, and zero minutes to HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Many opposition parties relied instead on social media to connect with supporters.
The period between the April announcement of early elections and the vote saw a number of attacks on political party offices, rallies, and members, including some incidents that led to death and serious injury. Violence most commonly targeted the HDP and its campaigners. Opposition party members faced frequent accusations from the highest levels of government of alleged terrorism-related crimes. A number of opposition candidates for parliament continue to face legal charges in connection with such claims, and the HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, was in detention during the campaign. His trials remained ongoing at year’s end. The OSCE noted that key amendments were adopted within months of the early elections, without consultation, and were perceived as favoring the ruling party.
There were allegations of electoral irregularities primarily in eastern Turkey, where the population was majority Kurdish.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The campaign for the presidential and parliamentary elections was marked by frequent violence against political parties and campaigners, with each party noting specific instances of unlawful interference in legitimate political activities. Victims were primarily members of the opposition political parties, and the HDP, the IYI Party, and the Saadet Party (Felicity Party) were most commonly subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violence.
One day after President Erdogan gave a speech in which he accused the opposition CHP presidential candidate of supporting the PKK, a man attacked a CHP women’s auxiliary member while she distributed campaign literature, shouting “PKK supporters cannot come here.” The victim filed a police report and the alleged assailant was detained.
In some cases, government officials also directly interfered in the activities of opposition parties. Istanbul municipal power workers allegedly cut the power at the site of an IYI party campaign rally. Witnesses reported that adjacent buildings had power, and only the location of the rally did not. In addition, city garbage trucks in Gaziantep parked to block access to a separate IYI party rally before city officials ordered an evacuation for unspecified “security reasons.”
A small number of attacks targeted the ruling AKP during the campaign. On May 14, unidentified individuals fired a weapon at an AKP election office in Ankara. The office was vacant at the time of the shooting, and no one was injured.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, although Kurdish politicians representing the HDP and the DBP remained under disproportionate government pressure relative to other politicians. The number of women in politics and the judiciary remained disproportionately low. As of year’s end, there were 104 women in the 600-member parliament. Parties did not nominate women to electable parliamentary candidates lists in 33 of the country’s 81 provinces. Prior to the June 24 election, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s cabinet included two female ministers. Following the election, President Erdogan appointed two female ministers and one woman to the Council of State.