Friday, June 3, 2011

Istanbul or East Chicago?

With elections coming up in Turkey, slowly succumbing to an Islamist government, Claire Berlinski, citing a piece by Turkish columnist Yusuf Kanli, notes a sudden, massive increase in the numbers of registered voters:
Less than two weeks before the June 12 parliamentary elections, there is a glossy public opinion poll on my desk. Like many people, I do have an allergy against public opinion polls because of the bad reputation that whoever pays for them is presented with the results that would most please them. Of course that does not mean all the public opinion polls are crooked or faulty. Definitely there are companies in Turkey doing public opinion polls through scientific means and indeed objectively.
Another problem is, of course, the sudden increase in the number of eligible registered voters. This issue, which somehow escaped attention of all of us, was brought to the forefront by Bülent Tanla, a former politician and a pioneer of public opinion polls in Turkey. Only last year at the Sept. 12 referendum, the number of eligible registered voters was around 49 million and in 2007 it was 42 million and in 2002 it was 41.4 million. In 2010 and 2011, it all of a sudden reached 49 and 52 million, respectively. How? Are Turks multiplying like rabbits? Particularly, how have Turks multiplied by three additional million since September 2010, resulting in the number of eligible voters increasing from 49 million to 52 million? What has happened? Or, has someone placed in his pocket in advance some 10 percent of the vote in case of any emergency? It smells bad, does it not?
Indeed.  Berlinski, writing from Istanbul, understands the stakes here:
I'll put this in really clear terms. Why are elections good? They are good not merely because it's nice to think that people have a voice in choosing their own governments. They're good because when they work properly, they allow for peaceful transitions of power, and they endow governments with popular legitimacy. The greater the social strains and political divisions in a society, the more important those "peaceful" and "legitimate" parts become. You can call an election a "post-modern civil war" if you like the term, just remember that there's still a world of difference between that and a "pre-modern civil war," or God forbid a "modern civil war."
Ten million extra voters raises huge questions about what's been going on--enough to wonder whether the government that's about to be elected will be seen as legitimate.
This country can't take that. It just can't.
The world can pay attention to this now, or it can pay attention after June 12. It's going to end up paying attention one way or another. A massive show of international solidarity with Turkish voters, interest in the fairness of this election, and defense of every Turkish citizen's right to vote--but only once--might actually make people who think they can get away with fiddling here and there realize they can't get away with it, because too many people are watching. Once it's been done, though, it will be a hundred times harder to walk that cat back.
Whatever the outcome of the elections, if they're free and fair, I'll basically shrug my shoulders: You voted for it, you live with it. But I won't shrug my shoulders at massive fraud. No one here deserves that. 

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