[Ed. – This won’t surprise well-informed readers. It should be a reminder, in any case, of how far gone Turkey is now.]
When attorney Necmi Acar arrived at a polling station this past Sunday in Oyuktas, a village in southeast Turkey, he was greeted by an armed squad of rural policemen. Voting had just begun in a referendum that, if passed, would consolidate governmental powers under the presidency, currently held by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Acar, a volunteer with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), had come to the station in response to a complaint of voter suppression in Oyuktas: Villagers claimed they were being forced to cast their ballots openly, under the watch of the Muhtar, or village leader, who they said was forcing them to vote “Yes.” The Muhtar allegedly did so while carrying an unconcealed handgun in the waistline of his pants.
Acar tried to enter the school where voting was taking place, but the Muhtar and the local jandarma, or rural law officers, confronted him. “They [asked] me ‘what are you doing here? We don’t want you here. … When I introduced myself as a lawyer and said I would take them to court, they let me pass,’” Acar said in a phone interview on Tuesday. He said he then entered the polling site to find four to five armed jandarma in each voting room. Under Turkish law, voting is supposed to be conducted in private booths, without security personnel or others seeking to influence voters present.
The ballot-box observer who called in the violations Acar had come to investigate had left the polling site by the time he arrived. He told Acar he had been beaten by the Muhtar for snitching, and had gone into hiding. A shootout at another polling station had already claimed three lives that day, and the observer had no interest in being the fourth.