|By Shabtai Gold, Can Merey and Linda Say | dpa-international |
Istanbul/Berlin (dpa) – Turkish law prohibits election campaigning outside the country.
Despite this, the Turkish government has become deeply enmeshed in a battle with European countries, especially Germany, over bans on rallies in several towns.
The government is trying to woo voters abroad for the upcoming referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Millions of people of Turkish descent live in Europe.
The relevant section of the law is Article 94/A of the general election law, which explicitly bans campaigning abroad or in foreign diplomatic missions.
Mehmet Hadimi Yakupoglu, who is part of the election commission from the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), confirmed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) enacted the administrative provision in 2008. Most major parties violate the rule.
The row with Berlin has deteriorated to the point where Erdogan charged that Germany was engaging in “Nazi practices.” Another minister from the Islamic-conservative AKP denounced “fascism.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held a rally with supporters in Hamburg on Wednesday evening. The poster for the event featured a campaign slogan – “our decision is yes” – and the party logo. People in the crowd held “yes” signs.
The event was held at the residence of the Turkish Consulate General, raising further questions. Cavusoglu has insisted he was merely addressing the Turkish community in Germany. His speech was about the government’s ongoing referendum campaign.
About 1.4 million Turks in Germany alone are eligible to vote in the referendum on April 16.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which observed the last parliamentary election in Turkey, in November 2015, noted it was “legally prohibited” to campaign outside the country and doing so was an “administrative violation.”
The OSCE noted this rule was violated by three parties – including the AKP and CHP – and a fourth party lodged a complaint to the election commission, but this was rejected, though the arbitrators “did not provide sound legal reasoning.”
The head of the AKP election campaign abroad, Mustafa Yeneroglu, a member of parliament, declined to comment on the law. He recently complained that his party was being systemically denied the chance to appear abroad while the opposition was being helped.
The Turkish election commission published a decision expanding on the general election law and relevant to the referendum on February 15, confirming that propaganda abroad or at border crossings were not permitted.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a member of Turkish parliament from the CHP, told dpa that indeed the law banned campaigning abroad, but noted that no criminal liability is attached to the provision. Rather it is a “moral obligation.”
“If the German authorities do not want to host Turkish events, they can argue that foreign campaigning is prohibited,” said Tanrikulu, a lawyer by training.
If approved in the April referendum, the constitutional amendments would vastly empower the presidency, including new abilities to issue decree.
Critics say it would weaken checks and balances – including the role of parliament and the independence of the judiciary.
Turkey is currently under a strict state of emergency, since a coup attempt by a faction in the military last year.
Members of opposition to the referendum often complain they struggle to organize rallies and are denied a fair distribution of air-time on the state-run broadcaster and even private channels.
More than 140 journalists are currently jailed and dozens of media outlets have been shuttered since the coup attempt.
Erdogan and his supporters say the constitutional changes will bring stability. He often insists terrorist organizations are rallying a “no” campaign.