As the debate continues over whether municipalities classified as towns will participate in the approaching local elections, a top Justice and Development Party (AK Party) member has dismissed rumors that the elections may be annulled.
"In Turkey, elections are annulled only in the event of war," said Nihat Ergun, deputy chairman of the AK Party's parliamentary group. "We can only talk about the prospect of postponing elections to a later date. But Supreme Election Board [YSK] officials have stated they will get ready for the local elections, set for March 2009, in time. Therefore, it seems almost impossible that the elections will be annulled or postponed."
Ergun's remarks came in the aftermath of a heated debate over contradictory rulings by the Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the YSK over whether municipalities that had been reclassified as towns because of their shrinking populations would take part in the upcoming local elections. Some observers said such a debate would overshadow the credibility of the local elections, which could result in the annulment of elections.
It all started when Parliament passed a bill in March declaring that municipalities that had been reclassified as towns because their populations had dropped below 2,000 would not take part in the approaching local elections. The YSK and the Council of State, however, recently ruled that 862 municipalities facing the risk of losing their mayoral offices after the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) reclassified them as towns.
The ruling said that these towns may take part in the upcoming local elections as towns and elect a mayor provided that they reach a population of more than 2,000 and file a lawsuit against TurkStat before February 2009. The rulings drew the ire of the Constitutional Court, which had limited the right of municipalities to file a lawsuit against TurkStat to May 2008.
"The YSK can resort to a correction in voter registration lists. Or it may decide whether it will need to postpone the local elections to a later date," Ergun said. "But YSK officials previously announced that there is no technical obstacle to holding the elections on time. Therefore, it is most improbable that the local elections will be postponed, let alone annulled."
Elections in Turkey are annulled only during times of war. They are postponed if local elections and general elections take place in the space of less than a year.
Former Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Sabih Kanadoglu first put forward the idea that the local elections may be annulled. He had previously claimed that the parliamentary quorum for a presidential election must be 367, a claim that halted the parliamentary vote for presidential elections.
Earlier this week, Kanadoglu accused the ruling AK Party of election fraud, an allegation raised by an increase of 6 million new voters in a one-and-a-half-year period. Kanadoglu, along with many other officials from opposition parties, argued that the new voters were distributed in a way that would strengthen support for the governing party in the local elections.
The YSK, after reviewing the claims of irregularities in the voter registration process, issued a statement on Wednesday justifying its decision. The board explained that it had conducted research into the claims and found that 2 million of the 6 million new voters recently turned 18 while the rest had not been registered in the database for the last election.
Ergun lashed out against the voter fraud claims and said those who have no hope of winning the election are trying to overshadow the elections with groundless allegations. "The Republican People's Party [CHP] has a habit of applying to judicial bodies with various complaints when defeated at the ballot box," Ergun remarked. "There is no need to question the credibility of elections based on the statements of a few court members. There are 46 million voters in this country. Our citizens will vote for the party they trust."
Chaos in the judiciary
Ergun also commented on the divergence of opinion among the Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the YSK.
"If everybody renders verdicts within the boundaries of the law, there will be no problem. The Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the YSK have recently made very controversial rulings and crossed the limits of the law," he said. "They have announced verdicts with great political repercussions. This is why we are faced with such a situation now."
Ergun also said the problem in the judiciary could not be solved with reform of the judicial structure. "The high judiciary in Turkey has structural problems. However, there is a common misunderstanding on this point," he said. "You may solve structural and institutional problems, but a problem with the jurists is hard to solve. Unless you get rid of jurists who act in accordance with political views and who fail to follow developments in the world, you cannot solve your problem with the judiciary."