Army of observers for looming elections

Army of observers for looming elections

ANKARA - In order to avoid electoral fraud, Turkish political parties have assigned millions of observers to watch over the voting boxes for the local elections to be held March 29.

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The observers will count and classify the votes and accompany them to the county election boards. They will also have the right to contest election results at their assigned posts.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, takes first prize in training and assigning election observers, with one representative and nine observers for each voting box Ğ a total of 1.5 million supporters watching over the party’s votes. With a minimum allowance per person of 2 Turkish Liras, the AKP’s election-day bill will run at least TL 3 million.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is assigning four people to each voting box, which adds up to 600,000 observers and attendants nationwide.

The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, will have one representative and two observers at each location, for a total of 500,000 people. The Democratic Party, or DP, will have one observer per voting box.

With its army of observers, the AKP operates on the motto "the election is won at the box." Party observers at each location will consist of three people from the main group, three people from the youth branch and three people from the women’s branch. The AKP has been training its observers for approximately three years, down to details like when to have tea and eat meals. The observers receive CDs explaining their assignments and are warned to not to leave the side of the voting boxes and to be extra careful during the counting of the votes.

CHP and MHP on alert

The CHP has prepared an instruction manual, the "Guide for Voting Box Board Members and Observers." Vice President and Istanbul Deputy Bilhun Tamaylıgil said the party started working months ago to assign voting-box attendants. Faruk Bal, vice president of the MHP, said his party is acting with caution because of previous voting-box frauds, explaining that each voting box has been assigned one member of the board and one stand-in. "But the stand-in member will be present at the box location, too," Bal said. "Those friends of ours will also be on guard against any violation of the prohibition on propaganda." Tahir Altan, the vice president responsible for the DP’s election work, said his party would have observers at every election location too.

Fraud is in the spotlight at every election, both during and after the voting process. The 2007 election saw claims that some parties offered financial incentives to people who submitted cell-phone photographs of their ballots as proof that they had voted. Other accusations held that previously stamped votes were being handed out in exchange for empty voting sheets, which the voting-box board presidents then falsified.

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The economic crisis has not affected the election budgets of the parties represented in Parliament, which have spent approximately 110 million liras through their central offices on posters, flyers, flags, advertising, rallies and related expenses.

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The candidates’ personal expenditures are not included in that total. According to the calculations of Demos Fairs Organization, provincial mayoral candidates spend at least 200,000 liras, county mayoral candidates at least 50,000 liras and headman candidates at least 10,000 liras for their campaigns.

 According to the Supreme Election Board, 48,006,650 citizens have the right to vote in the local elections at 174,902 voting boxes around the country. The most registered voters are in Istanbul (8,794,284 people), Ankara (3,224,687) and Izmir (2,784,874). The registered-voter records of Turkey were last renewed in an Oct. 21, 2007, referendum, when 42,629,733 registered voters were counted. That number has increased by 5,376,917 people, according to the current count.

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