European Commission urges Turkey to launch ‘transparent investigations’ into referendum results

The European Commission on April 18 urged Turkey to launch “transparent investigations” into alleged voting irregularities in the April 16 constitutional referendum, in which the “yes” camp won 51.4 percent of the votes. 
International observers charged on April 17 that the referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and that the vote count was “marred by late procedural changes that removed key safeguards.”

“We call on the Turkish authorities to consider the next steps very carefully, and to seek the broadest possible national consensus in the follow-up to the national referendum,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said at a press conference in Brussels.

Schinas said that such caution was needed not only because of the observers’ report but also because of the closeness of the result and what he called the “far-reaching” implications of the constitutional amendments.

“We also call on all actors to show restraint and on the authorities to launch transparent investigations into these alleged irregularities found by the observers,” he said, speaking for the commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU.

Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) made a controversial last-minute decision on April 16 to count ballots that had not been stamped by officials.

Referring to previous remarks by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on future EU-Turkey ties, Schinas said: “We encourage Turkey to move closer to the European Union again and not to move even further and faster away from us.”   

The Commission said any legislation bringing back the death penalty to Turkey, as pledged by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his campaign, would certainly end Ankara’s EU membership bid.

“On the death penalty … not only is this a red line. It is the reddest of all red lines. We have an unequivocal rejection of the death penalty,” Schinas said.

The OSCE/PACE observation mission delegation, meanwhile, visited the YSK on April 18, one day after releasing its interim report about the referendum.

The delegation was paying a courtesy visit to the YSK and delivered a copy of its interim report on the referendum, OSCE delegation chair Tana de Zulueta said after the meeting.

“We shared a copy of our report with the YSK. We were here to thank them for their support and cooperation in this process. We talked about these things in general. We will reflect our thoughts on this clearly in our final report,” Zulueta told reporters.

A mission of observers from the 47-member Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe(PACE) said the referendum, which saw a 51 percent approval for the changes, was an uneven contest that took place in unfair conditions. 

They particularly noted the YSK’s controversial 11th hour decision to allow as valid ballots that did not bear official stamps, saying the decision undermined important safeguards against fraud.

“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” said Cezar Florin Preda, the head of the PACE delegation, on April 17.

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