October 27, 2015

65 US lawmakers to Obama: Make sure Turkish polls are free and fair

Sixty-five members of the US Congress have asked President Barack Obama in a letter to encourage Turkey to take all necessary measures to ensure that elections slated for Nov. 1 are held in a "truly free" environment.

"We are writing to express our concerns regarding the need to ensure the integrity of the upcoming November 1 elections in Turkey and the process surrounding these elections," the lawmakers said in a joint letter. The letter was spearheaded by Congressmen Todd Rokita and Alan Lowenthal.

We ask that the US continue to support and encourage free, open, and fair elections in Turkey," the letter said.

The members of the Congress recalled that the elections next week mark the second time this year that the Turkish people will be voting for their parliamentary representation. The elections in early summer ended the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) 13-year single-party rule, but weeks of political jockeying failed to form a coalition government.

The lawmakers warned of "troubling reports of media suppression," adding that fair elections require government to respect free speech and the rule of law so that these ideas are openly discussed in a society.

The letter came on a day when the Turkish government moved to seize İpek Media Holding, one of the leading critical media group, just days before the polls. The media group has been under intense government pressure for nearly two years because the family that owns the holding is critical of the government.

The letter also reminded that leading Turkish satellite, cable, and internet broadcasters have announced they will no longer broadcast news channels critical of the government.

This is the sixth letter submitted by members of the US Congress as well as Senators to US officials, asking them to urge Ankara to ensure media freedom, rule of law and uphold democratic values that are enshrined in its Constitution. Previous letters were signed by nearly 100 members of the Congress and at least 73 Senators.

The lawmakers said the previous June elections were notably close and a small electoral shift would have changed the outcome. "Any questions about the integrity of new elections could exacerbate regional political tensions and further polarize the political scene in Turkey," the letter noted.

It also stated that successful elections in Turkey provide leadership in a region where developing democracies "face great turmoil and existential threats" from radical groups. However, it added, in light of recent events, concerns have been raised about the Turkish government's dedication to the democratic process.

The letter highlighted that many in the international community have already announced they will take steps in advance of these elections to ensure the voice of the Turkish people in heard.

"The US should encourage the Turkish government take all necessary action to ensure truly free elections on Nov. 1.," lawmakers concluded.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 October 2015, Monday