2+2=?, A guide to local elections
by Jale Özgentürk & Şebnem Turan - Referans
ISTANBUL - Manipulating voter counts and census numbers is one of the oldest tricks in the election book but new technology implemented in Turkey should safeguard the data, says Ömer Toprak, head of the Turkish Statistical Institute, adding that the fraudsters, however, are adapting to the changes and the Interior Ministry needs to be watchful and vigilant.
Bussing in supporters to tip the balance before elections may be obsolete, but those who can benefit from altered voter data are adapting to new census-taking technology, according to the keeper of Turkeys national statistics.
Turkeys population census is being reformed with new technology that should make the data highly resistant to tampering, including an electronic databank created to store census figures, according to Turkish Statistical Institute, or TÜİK, Acting President Ömer Toprak. The responsibility for the data, however, has been transferred to the Interior Ministry, Toprak said in an interview with daily Referans, adding that his institute was no longer in charge of the census figures and the ministry was accountable for any change in the numbers.
Huge discrepancies in the number of voters in recent years have already raised eyebrows. In the 2004 local elections, the number of registered voters was 43,552,931, according to the Supreme Election Board, or YSK. That figure dropped to 42,571,284 for the 2007 general elections, leading experts to suggest that some past tampering with the numbers may have been corrected.
But last fall, when YSK President Muammer Aydın announced that the number of voters registered for the March 29 local elections had increased to 48,265,644, many started to wonder what was behind the reversal. Aydın said the increase was due to the inclusion on the list of many people who had never before registered and those who had recently turned 18.
In the past, the population census was collected during a nationwide curfew, with officials hired for that one day going house to house and then forwarding the data to a central bureau. The process was continually criticized for being archaic and open to manipulation, and the old system was eventually replaced with the Address-Based Electronic Census System, which produced its first results early last year and is used as the basis of the voter-registration figures for the coming local elections.
TÜİKs Toprak said the new system provided the soundest data yet and that he could not understand how people could cite past figures as more accurate when everyone knew the system was manipulated.
"After every population census, people used to criticize the curfew and how it was manipulated by people who carried their supporters with buses to tip the political balance in their favor," Toprak said, adding that the census figures were under the thumb of local leaders, who told census officials to look the other way when they saw people being brought in by bus.
Especially in local elections, where a few hundred votes might separate the candidates, bringing supporters from outside and registering them as local voters played a crucial role in many regions. Many municipalities also brought in outsiders to artificially inflate their populations so they could secure larger budgets from the central government. The new system was promoted as a tool to prevent such manipulation.
"After the 2000 population census, we had to go back and repeat our census in some regions," Toprak said. "Everyone knows how much the population dropped after the second count."
Toprak said the introduction of personalized identification numbers would keep people from voting more than once and from voting outside their home regions. He dismissed claims that more than 30 people were registered in homes where residents said they didnt know the people on the new lists that said they lived with, and that some people were registered as living at state offices or even in barns, as human error or false reporting.
"The house where 35 people live is a dormitory. The place where 850 live is a school," he said. Toprak also noted, however, that the people who used to manipulate the old census figures had kept abreast with the new technological developments. "Just think about who was taking people around in buses," he said. "They are doing the same again. They have adapted to the new technology. Dont make me say more."
After they created the new system, Topraks institute transferred it to the Interior Ministry in early 2008. "The system is out of our hands," he said. "If TÜİK is to publish population figures, it will get the data from the Interior Ministry. I am finished with it. I dont know what happened to it after we transferred it."
Toprak: I did not imply tampering
A day after his interview with daily Referans, Toprak criticized the reporting that appeared in the newspaper. "The presentation of the story appeared to imply certain things that I never said." Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, he confirmed he had no knowledge of the new population-registry system after it was transferred to the Interior Ministrys Population and Citizenship Department, but denied he had implied that the registry could be tampered with there.
Toprak repeated that a person registering more than once was impossible under the new system, but added that individuals could try to deceive the system in other ways, an act that would result in criminal proceedings.
The YSK had previously announced that anyone found tampering with the population data would face charges that carry a jail sentence of between six months and four years. YSK officials told the Anatolia news agency that any discrepancies in the census data would be investigated and corrected. "The dye dripped on fingers to prevent repeat voting in previous elections will not be used," one official said. "The new system is safer and no one without the necessary identification number will be allowed to vote."
Referans Editor-in-Chief Eyüp Can said the paper would go ahead with printing the story. "We are going to put the record of the interview with TÜİKs head on our Web site and tomorrow [today] we are going to print in our newspaper the parts that he claims were distorted," he said.
"Hence those who will listen to the recordings and read the newspaper can see that he is the one who distorted his original statements, not us. The head of TÜİK wanted to save himself or felt obliged to make that statement [to Anatolia news agency] because he was stuck in a difficult position," Can said. "This was not a conversation on the run. The request for an interview came from TÜİK. They said they wanted to explain how a previous mistake about industrial production growth in November came about."
|11 Mart 2009|