ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved electoral law amendments that critics maintain could pave the way to election fraud and aim to curtail an opposition alliance’s chances of wresting control of the house in the next elections.
Parliament endorsed the changes by a show of hands after a three-day debate. The reforms were approved by legislators from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and his nationalist allies, which have a majority in parliament.
Among other things, the reforms lower the parliamentary entry threshold from 10% to 7%, amend the way legislative seats are distributed among members of an alliance, and entrust the overseeing of challenges to election results to judges selected by lot. The changes would come into effect next year.
Opposition parties have slammed the changes as a desperate attempt by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which has been sliding in opinion polls, to stay in power.
“The law we are discussing amounts to electoral engineering (by Erdogan’s party) with the aim of staying in power — not with the aim of serving a democratic election or representation,” said Filiz Kerestecioglu, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, before the vote. Her party is not part of the opposition alliance.
Hayati Yazici, a senior official from Erdogan’s party who drafted the reforms, has defended the reforms insisting that they ensure elections better reflect the “will of the people.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party has vowed to challenge some of the changes at Turkey’s highest court.
The changes to the way legislative seats are distributed in each electoral district are likely to put smaller parties at a disadvantage and make it pointless for them to join the opposition alliance. Whereas previously parliamentary seats were distributed according to the total votes mustered by an alliance, with the changes, the seats will be allocated according to the votes that each party receives.
Critics say the move aims to deter two small conservative parties that broke away Erdogan’s ruling party from joining the opposition alliance.
Under the new measures, challenges to vote counts would be overseen by judges selected in a draw instead of the top-ranking judge in a district. Critics claim the move would make it more likely for judges that were appointed by the ruling party in recent years — and allegedly loyal to the party — to oversee appeals cases.
The opposition has welcomed the lowering of the minimum percentage of votes required to be represented in parliament. However, they say the move is aimed at saving the Nationalist Movement Party, which is allied with Erdogan’s party and is trailing in opinion polls. The threshold would remain among the highest in Europe.
They also maintain that due to a technicality in the reforms, Erdogan as president would be exempt from some campaign restrictions which would cast a shadow on the fairness of the vote — a charge the ruling party denies.
The election reforms were introduced a month after the leaders of six opposition parties came together and pledged a return to a parliamentary system if they win the next elections. They vowed to dismantle the executive presidential system ushered in by Erdogan that critics say amounts to a one-man rule.
Polls indicate that the ruling party-led alliance is losing support amid an economic downturn and surging inflation that has left many struggling to address basic needs.
The changes would come into effect in time for presidential and parliamentary elections slated for June 2023. The current election laws would apply if early elections are called.
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