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Turkish election authority rejects claims of fraud in referendum

Ministers round on critics who say supreme election board helped voter fraud, as its members rule against annulment requests
Anti-government demonstrators march during a protest in the Kadikoy area of Istanbul (Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey's supreme election authority has rejected calls to annul the result of Sunday's referendum on presidential powers, only 24 hours after it was itself accused of helping facilitate mass voting fraud.

The board, known as the YSK, considered and rejected the complaints by the CHP, HDP and Vatan opposition parties. It is yet to rule on about 1,500 individual complaints filed on Tuesday, but the YSK is unlikely to change its decision.

"The complaints filed by the CHP, HDP and Vatan Party regarding the illegality of the referendum and calls to annul it were rejected in a majority vote," it said in a single sentence statement.

The switch to an executive presidency system of governance was approved by voters with a thin margin of 51.4 percent - about 1.3 million votes difference.

All decisions taken during the voting was in the presence of all political parties

- Binali Yildirim, Turkish PM

The CHP’s deputy chairman, Bulent Tezcan, responded after the YSK decision, telling Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk: "Our request for an annulment was rejected. Ten members voted against out petition and one voted for the annulment.

The plebiscite has been marred by allegations of vote-rigging, involving the Supreme Election Board (YSK) itself, which is accused of allowing ballots cast in unstamped envelopes to be valid unless it can be proven that they were brought from outside - a near impossible task.

"We are not happy with this," said Tezcan. "The YSK with this decision has legitimised unstamped voting envelopes and cast even more doubt on the legitimacy of the referendum."

Tezcan also said the CHP would decide on Thursday how to react legally and politically. The CHP refuses to recognise the result and had earlier said it would pursue its request to annul the referendum with the constitutional court and then the European Court of Human Rights. However, YSK decisions cannot be contested legally.

Turkey's Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, defended the election board earlier on Wednesday, saying: "What needs to be known is that all decisions taken during the voting was in the presence of members of all political parties. Everyone has a right to protest but we need to bear that in mind.

"But resorting to illegal means and calling on people to take to the streets is wrong. The main opposition party's remarks that they don't recognise the vote is unfortunate.

Turks wait in line to submit their personal appeals to the Supreme Electoral Board for annulment of the referendum, in Ankara (Reuters)

Hundreds of Turks have taken to the streets to protest against Sunday's result, the European Commission has called for an investigation, the opposition CHP party has filed a complaint to the YSK and European monitors said that up to 2.5 million votes were disputed.

Opposition leaders have called on people to remain calm and to channel their protest via the YSK instead of taking to the streets.

The CHP on Tuesday filed an official appeal with the YSK on Tuesday, citing multiple irregularities during Sunday's referendum. Hundreds of citizens also filed individual complaints to the board.

On Wednesday, the party threatened to pull out of parliament over the result, but later apparently rescinded on the threat.

Nevertheless the party's leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said his party did not recognise the outcome and called for annulment.

In a speech to his parliamentary group and in a series of Twitter posts, Kilicdaroglu promised to not rest until justice was done.

Translation: We don't recognise and never will recognise this election, which that will go down as the "unstamped vote" in history! The public will must be respected and the vote should be repeated!

Sporadic protests continued to be held in various cities across the country on Tuesday evening.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday again defended the slim victory, saying what mattered was the win and not the margin.

"It doesn't matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. What matters is that you win the match," he told CNN on Tuesday.

The European Commission on Tuesday called on Turkey to investigate the alleged irregularities, a request dismissed by the Turkish EU minister, Omer Celik, as a "speculative statement" that could not be accepted. 

Turkish pro-government media and politicians have also taken aim at one member of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe's mission, after the release of its report on voting irregularities. They accused Andrej Hulke of sympathising with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Turkey's foreign minister also waded into the referendum debate on Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable that these organisations make nonsensical comments. They keep saying 1.5 million difference. That's more than the population of many European countries. OSCE makes nonsense remarks and one of their observers is a PKK sympathiser," said Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

"The OSCE's report has no reliability as their observations lack objectivity and are extremely partial."

Yildirim also slammed the OSCE in another televised appearance on Wednesday.

"These whatever you call it OSCE and such come and make comments. The result is Yes," he said.

"The country made its choice. It is now everyone's duty to respect this decision."

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