Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vote Laundering

Election campaigns in Turkey are a rough sport, one where the ruling party – with its access to the state coffers – has a significant home field advantage. For example, with nationwide local elections coming up in March, the governing Justice and Development Party has for months been distributing tons of free coal all over Turkey. Some papers have even claimed that all that free coal being burned has led to a deterioration in the air quality in certain cities, running pictures of smog choked neighborhoods that apparently were the recipients of the AKP’s largesse.

The government now seems to be taking things to the next level. In the eastern Turkish town of Tunceli, the AKP-appointed governor has recently been giving out not just coal, but also washing machines, refrigerators, ovens and even couches and mattresses.

From a report in The National:
White goods with a combined value of 4.8 million lira [$3 million] are being distributed free of charge to 3,300 families in need, the office of Mustafa Yaman, governor of the province of Tunceli, said in a statement last week. Pictures in Turkish newspapers showed people carrying new washing machines and mattresses on their backs. Tunceli ranks among the poorest provinces in Turkey. The yearly per capita income is about US$4,000…. according to purchase power parity, compared with nearly $10,000 nationwide, official statistics say.

“In accordance with the welfare state principles of our government, a project for those of our fellow citizens who find it hard to meet their daily needs is aiming to meet the need for goods like refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, carpets and sofas,” the governor’s office said. The aid is being delivered by a foundation linked to the provincial administration. Computers, electrical ovens and vacuum cleaners were also among the goods that were handed out, the statement said. A total of 3,020 goods were listed.
AKP officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, say the handouts are not about buying votes, but rather about fulfilling the Turkish constitution’s demand that the state help its citizens. But, according to Hurriyet, the official body responsible for overseeing elections in Turkey has a different take:
The Supreme Board of Elections, or YSK, warned the government Saturday that the campaign was aimed at influencing voters’ decisions and that it was in contradiction with the principle of freedom and equality in elections.

"We have made the decision and the necessary steps are being taken. Afterward, prosecutors may start the necessary processes to deal with the issue," Muammer Aydın, president of the YSK said yesterday morning, signaling that the probe would be launched. A few hours after Aydın's statement, the Tunceli prosecutor opened an investigation concerning the campaign upon a criminal complaint by a political party.
(Photo -- Washing machines being prepared for distribution in Tunceli, Turkey. From Hurriyet.)

No comments: