ISTANBUL, TURKEY —
Ahead of the November poll, Turkey’s election authority has relocated ballot boxes in many areas across a predominantly Kurdish region, as fighting escalates between security forces and the PKK Kurdish rebel group. The move has provoked widespread condemnation and allegations the ruling AKP Party seeks to manipulate the vote.
Local election boards cited security concerns for relocating ballot boxes in a number of towns and villages across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. The decision likely will affect tens of thousands of voters in the November 1 election.
Emma Sinclair Webb, the chief Turkey researcher for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, expressed concern.
"I don't think at this point you are going prevent people turning out to vote by moving ballot boxes to different regions, of course it makes life harder," said Webb. "But what you are doing in all of this is drumming up tensions in the region. You are continually making people feel the pressure of the state, while arguing that people are feeling the pressure of the PKK all the time."
The pro-Kurdish HDP party condemned the move, saying it could open the door to voting manipulation, a view shared by the main opposition CHP. The HDP’s success in gaining seats in parliament in the June election denied the ruling AKP a clear majority.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the decision to move the ballot boxes, saying previous elections have been marred by intimidation from the PKK. Even some members of his party, though, have questioned the legality of the action.
Sinan Ulgen, a Turkish foreign policy scholar at the Carnegie Institute in Europe, warns the controversy could undermine the elections.
"If this decision happens to gradually effect more and more places in the Southeast, then this might indeed present a considerable challenge both to the integrity of the elections, but also in more extreme scenario could lead to the pro-Kurdish HDP to boycott elections," he said.
Turkey’s Supreme Election Board still has to validate the moving of ballot boxes, a decision that observers warn could have far-reaching consequences.