More than 55,000 election monitors are preparing for Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Turkey. Tensions are high, with Turkish Kurds bracing for possible violence as the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries to regain its majority — something polls indicate is unlikely.
Erdogan’s Kurdish and leftist opponents accuse his government of manipulating the vote and say they doubt the poll will be free and fair.
Kurdish residents of Istanbul’s Dolapdera neighborhood set out Friday on a 15-hour bus trip to Turkey’s Kurdish region to vote.
“To say these elections will be fair is impossible," said Hayri Eser, one of the Kurdish voters. "But as best we can, we will keep the ballot boxes safe, and cast our votes, and we will continue our resistance.”
International observers are also here. Thomas Rymer of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said, "We’re looking at things such as the candidate registration process, the voter registration process. We have in-depth media analysis here. Media is one of the issues ... that is being looked at, I think, by many people in relation to this election.”
Police scuffled with journalists and protesters after authorities this week raided a media company whose TV stations and newspapers were critical of the Erdogan government. But such incidents did not deter the Kurds leaving Friday for polling stations in eastern Turkey.
One voter named Osman said, "Now, I’m speaking with courage. Normally, I’m afraid. Even as I’m talking now, they can come and arrest me. The pressure on us is too much. I cannot speak comfortably, and nobody can speak. If all Kurds could speak freely, most of our work would be complete.”
Outnumbered and outspent, many of the Kurdish voters are going to polls knowing that gaining a majority in parliament is out of the question. The most they can hope for is to gain influence — and a better future for their children.
Despite the tension and the threat of violence, they have hope that their ballots may bring about changes to the system that will eventually give them a greater voice.