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Top Turkey court rejects opposition challenge to vote

FUTURE DETERMINED? A supporter of the ‘yes’ camp waves a Turkish national flag during a rally in front of Turkish presidential residence, at Sariyer district, in Istanbul, on April 16, 2017, after the initial results of a nationwide referendum that will determine Turkey’s future destiny. Bulent Kilic/AFP

ANKARA, Turkey – A top Turkish court Tuesday, April 25, rejected an opposition legal challenge to last-minute voting rule changes in the referendum on handing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greater powers.

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has repeatedly criticized the decision by the country’s top election authority to accept ballot documents in envelopes without an official stamp.

The party formally lodged on Friday, April 21, a petition with the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, after the ‘Yes’ side won 51.4% of the vote in the April 16 referendum.

The opposition, which argues that the decision by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on the envelopes opened the way for fraud, launched a failed bid to annul the referendum last week.

The CHP said the decision by the election board was an "administrative" move.

However, the court rejected its challenge by a majority vote (4 against and one in favor), saying it could not rule on the YSK’s move because it was "not an administrative procedure", state-run news agency Anadolu reported.

CHP deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said the court’s decision was "not right", adding it would not stop the party from continuing its "legal battle" after the vote.

"There are different options which could be taken… including individual applications to the Constitutional Court", he said, quoted by Anadolu.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Saturday, April 22, that decisions made by the YSK could not be challenged in the Constitutional Court nor in the Council of State.

Levent Gok, CHP’s parliamentary group leader, immediately hit back, accusing Bozdag of giving "instructions" to the judges before they had made a decision.

With the constitutional changes approved by voters, Turkey will implement an executive presidency from November 2019, axing the role of prime minister and empowering the president to appoint ministers.

‘Shady practices’

An independent citizens’ organization called "No and Beyond" which compiled information about alleged irregularities encountered on the day of the vote claimed the referendum was "invalid on all kinds of legal grounds."

"It is the cornerstone of democracy in our country and the right of every citizen to trust that the elections and public votes are safe from shady practices," the group’s report published on Tuesday said.

"It is clear that this right cannot be established," the report said.

Formed only two months ago, No and Beyond with close to 15,000 volunteers was at polling stations across Turkey.

In one example of 7,448 ballot boxes, the group said it had observed that over 2,397 contained more votes than the registered number of voters. The sum of the votes found in these ballot boxes was 1.67 million and 60.7% of these votes were ‘Yes’.

Damla Atalay, a lawyer from the group, said the referendum must be repeated.

"But even if it is annulled, we have second thoughts if any second vote would be in compliance with the law," she told Agence France-Presse in Istanbul.

Atalay said most of the irregularities spotted by the group took place in the east and the southeast of Turkey. –