During a hurried midnight taxi ride between Istanbul’s two major airports, the faces of Racep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian president, and Binali Yildrim, Turkey’s former Prime Minister and Istanbul mayoral candidate, gazed down at me from every lamppost and roadside hoarding. I had been invited to Turkey by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as part of a local election observation mission, and the omnipresent sight of these two moustachioed members of the ruling AK Party served as a reminder – if reminders were needed – that the elections would not occur on a level playing field. Turkey has been described by academics as a kind of hybrid electoral-authoritarian country. Its citizens are used to voting regularly and in relatively large numbers, even as the media and important state institutions are effectively under the tutelage of President Erdogan and his AKP. Recent plebiscites, including the 2017 referendum on switching to an anti-democratic presidential system, were marred by accusations of fraud and voter manipulation, but Turkey’s rulers nevertheless have cause to fear them. It is, despite President Erdogan’s best efforts to stack the deck in his own favour, possible for him to lose an election.Full Article: Turkey's local elections were not free or fair | openDemocracy.
Middle East and North Africa
Articles about voting issues in the Middle East and North Africa.
Fifteen years after US President George W. Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” address, Iraq continues its struggle for democracy. Regrettably, key institutions like its Independent High Electoral Commission have proven inefficient in laying the foundations for a thriving democracy. What is worst, they are failing to learn from their own recent experiences. In May 2018, Iraq headed to the polls for its first election in the post-ISIS era. What initially appeared to be a relatively decent election gradually emerged to have involved massive potential fraud, forcing a manual recount of the results of a failed electronic voting system. These botched elections cast into serious doubt Iraq’s ability to strengthen its own democratic institutions and conduct future election processes. The tragic episode of the 2018 elections could have had a positive spin, had authorities learned the lesson. However, the fact that they are mulling over the idea of using the same unreliable technology, is a sad testament to the struggle facing Iraq’s fragile, corrupt and inefficient institutions.Full Article: e-lected blog (a view on electronic voting around the world).: Electronic Voting in Iraq: Mission Unaccomplished.
Tears could be seen on the face of Orly Adas, the director of the Central Elections Committee, two weeks ago, when she began speaking at a meeting to discuss the final election results. The tears were an expression of the enormous tension and frustration felt by members of the committee during the period between Election Day and the release of the results. “We were under ferocious attack,” says Adas, referring to efforts by the New Right party to undermine the validity of election results that put them just 1,500 votes short of the threshold to enter the Knesset. That said, one must not cast aside claims made on social media by voters unaligned to a particular political party, who cite examples of distortions in the vote count. In the end, the question is whether there a way to improve the voting system and the count, both of which have barely been modified since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, despite the enormous technological improvements made in the past decades?Full Article: Voting to stay secure: Israel a long way from electronic ballots.
As voters lined up outside the polls in Cairo Saturday, music blared and some among the crowds danced and waved Egyptian flags. Many people held flyers with a photograph of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and a green checkmark. The message? Vote “yes.” If passed, the constitutional changes proposed in the ballot could extend the president’s rule to 2030, and deepen the military’s role in communities. The Egyptian Parliament overwhelmingly supported the changes and announced the national vote on Wednesday. Results are expected by April 27. Opponents to the measure say the changes will roll back the democratic dreams of 2011, when a popular uprising lead to the ousting of 30-year dictator, Hosni Mubarak and that the referendum is marred by corruption and coercion. Supporters say a secure leadership will make Egypt safer and help the country climb out of economic crisis. “The legislative impact would be basically handing over all powers to the presidency,” explained Hisham Kassem, a veteran Egyptian publisher and analyst in an interview ahead of the vote.Full Article: Egypt Referendum on Extending Sissi's Rule Riddled with Irregularities.
Israel: Can Israel’s election count be tampered with? An official explains the process | The Times of Israel
Last Thursday, two days after the elections, New Right party leader Naftali Bennett learned that his party was about 1,380 votes shy of earning any seats in the Knesset and demanded a recount, hinting at possible foul play. Sources in his party went so far as to allege that the elections were being “stolen” via a corrupted count. On Sunday, the Central Elections Committee granted Bennett access to the original “double-envelope” ballots — the “extra” votes from soldiers and diplomats on whose votes New Right had pinned its hopes of making it into the Knesset — so that he could confirm for himself that the count was honest. At the same time, the committee chastised his party for its insinuations of wrongdoing. In addition to New Right, several parties, including United Torah Judaism and Meretz, were in touch with the committee in the days immediately after the election over what they believed were mishandled ballot boxes. With the votes finalized on Tuesday — and UTJ bumped up a seat, Likud down a seat, and New Right still outside the Knesset — Bennett’s party remained insistent that it was the victim of fraud in the vote-counting process, asserting discrepancies in 8% of ballot boxes. The Central Elections Committee dismissed the claim as unfounded.Full Article: Can Israel’s election count be tampered with? An official explains the process | The Times of Israel.
Earlier this year, Hanan Melcer, the chairman of Israel’s Central Elections Committee and a veteran justice on the Supreme Court, summoned representatives from major U.S. social-media and technology companies for talks about the role he expected them to play in curbing online deception during the country’s election, which took place on Tuesday. Facebook and Google sent representatives to meet with Melcer in person. Twitter executives, who weren’t in the country, arranged for a conference call. “You say you’ve learned from 2016,” Melcer told them, according to a government official who was present. “Prove it!” When Melcer, two years ago, assumed his role overseeing the election, he expected that covert influence campaigns by foreign adversaries, similar to Russia’s alleged interference during the 2016 U.S. Presidential race, could be his biggest challenge. But, as Melcer and his colleagues looked more closely into the issues they could face, they realized that the problem was broader than foreign interference. Russia’s campaign in the United States demonstrated that fake personas on social media could influence events. In Israel and elsewhere, political parties and their allies realized that they could use similar techniques to spread anonymous messages on the Internet and on social media to promote their candidates and undermine their rivals. The use of fake online personas has a long history in Israel. In the mid-two-thousands, an Israeli company called Terrogence used them to infiltrate suspected jihadi chat rooms. Later, Terrogence experimented with covertly influencing the jihadis they targeted. More recently, companies in Israel and elsewhere started using fake personas to spread messages on behalf of political parties and their allies.Full Article: How Israel Limited Online Deception During Its Election | The New Yorker.
While the 2019 Knesset elections had some unprecedented cyber issues, future elections will have even more, cyber expert and founder and editor-in-chief of Cybertech Magazine Amir Rapaport says. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Rapaport divided the impact of cyber on the elections into three spheres. He said that Israel’s Central Elections Committee, in coordination with the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) and other agencies (the Shin Bet Israel Security Agency is known to have a heavy role), seem to have succeeded in protecting from actual hacking of physical election systems. To that extent, no one has called into question the voter totals produced by the committee based on accusations of a cyber attack. (There are some minor controversies, but not related to the cyber sphere.) Further, some of the dark scenarios to prevent voters from reaching the polling stations, including the hacking of trains and other public transit, did not transpire.Full Article: Cyber expert: Future elections will have even more cyber issues - Israel Elections - Jerusalem Post.
A group of Israel based hackers claimed that just a few days prior to the parliamentary election, they conducted a cyber-attack into the database of Israeli voters. But the officials have dismissed the claims. Israel’s parliamentary election or Knesset election will take place on Tuesday, April 9. But, on Saturday, April 6 the hacking group claimed that they have stolen important information of on millions of Israelis as they successfully broke into the voter registry. Later, the Central Elections Committee of Israel stated that they had no evidence of any cyber breach. As per a Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Hamodia, the authority has dismissed the hackers’ claims and mentioned that the accessed data was from another data leak in 2006. The report also added that there are thousands of hackers around the world and they aim regularly to attack Israel-based web sites.Full Article: Hackers stole Israeli voters information; officials deny theft.
Turkey’s ruling party said Sunday that it will appeal for a full recount of all votes cast in Istanbul’s mayoral election, which the opposition narrowly won in a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the March 31 local elections, the opposition not only prevailed in a tight race in Istanbul’s financial and cultural center, it also took control of Ankara, the capital. Erdogan’s party, which held both cities for decades, contested the results, claiming the elections were “tainted.” The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the right for a recount of votes previously deemed invalid. On Sunday, Ali Ihsan Yavuz, an AKP deputy chairman, said the party would appeal to the country’s top election authority for a total recount of votes in Istanbul’s 38 districts, not just of ballots that were canceled.Full Article: Erdogan’s party seeks full recount in Istanbul - The Washington Post.
There has been one theme running through this election almost from the day it was called: Cybersecurity. The past few months have been colored with stories of online influence campaigns, hacking, bots and Internet trolls. It began in November, when the Knesset hadn’t been dissolved yet but election fever was in the air, and The Jerusalem Post uncovered Twitter accounts sending links to falsified websites with outlandish news stories about Israeli politicians. The Foreign Ministry reported some incidents to Twitter and got some of the accounts shut down, but it also sent a warning to journalists, a top target for these scams: “The modes of action to influence the political discourse in Israel are similar to those that were seen in the elections in the United States, the vote on Brexit in the United Kingdom and the elections in France. Their preferred network is Twitter, which is seen as a social media of influencers and opinion leaders.” In January, less than two weeks after the Knesset made the elections official, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman warned about foreign intervention in the election using cyber capabilities, though he did not say which country was interfering and to what end. Many in the political field assumed he was referring to Russia, based on the aforementioned precedents, but Argaman has yet to make a follow-up statement nor has there been any serious evidence of a Russian effort.Full Article: Politics: The cybersecurity election - Israel Elections - Jerusalem Post.
As Israel prepares to hold a national election next week, experts say it is vulnerable to the kind of foreign hacks and cyber campaigns that have disrupted the political process in other countries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there is “no country better prepared” to combat election interference. But despite Israel’s thriving tech sector and vaunted security capabilities, experts say its laws are outdated and that Netanyahu’s government hasn’t made cyber threats a priority. Campaigning had just started to ramp up in January when the director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, told a closed audience that a world power had tried to disrupt the April 9 vote. Suspicion fell on Russian operatives, now infamous for their alleged cyber meddling in America’s 2016 presidential race and the Brexit referendum. Soon after, news erupted that Iranian agents had hacked the cellphone of Benny Gantz, a former general who is the main challenger to Netanyahu. Although the breach occurred months before Gantz joined the race, the scandal threatened to derail his campaign, which is largely based on his security credentials.Full Article: Israelis prepare for elections as experts cite cyber threats - The Washington Post.
The discovery of Israel election bots designed to give the illusion of support for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of elections next week is the latest example of how cybersecurity has crossed over into the political realm, according to one cybersecurity expert. The Israel election bots, which were uncovered by cyber watchdog the Big Bots Project, identified hundreds of fake Twitter accounts responsible for over 130,000 tweets said to be spreading disinformation about Netanyahu’s opponents. It is, according to Corin Imai, senior security advisor at DomainTools, the latest example of how cybersecurity concerns are posing a threat to democracy. “This campaign is yet the latest demonstration of how the political game has changed,” she said. “Cybersecurity is no longer a matter of protecting enterprises’ digital assets and data, but a responsibility towards the preservation of the democratic process.Full Article: Israel election bots show “how the political game has changed”.
Turkey: Erdogan’s party challenges election results after apparent defeat in Turkey’s cities | The Washington Post
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party said Tuesday that it had submitted challenges to election results that showed its candidates had been defeated in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest cities, in local elections two days earlier that dealt a rare setback to Erdogan at the ballot box. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has repeatedly prevailed in elections since 2002 and was the leading vote-getter on Sunday. But its losses in major cities — including Istanbul, Turkey’s financial capital — were a significant symbolic defeat for Erdogan and threatened to weaken his powerful party machine, analysts said. The election came in the midst of an economic downturn that had focused voter anger on Erdogan’s handling of the crisis, analysts said. Urban voters may have also bristled at his caustic campaign rhetoric, they added, and his frequent attempts to link his political opponents to terrorism. The AKP challenged vote tallies in all of Istanbul’s 39 districts, where Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayoral candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was leading by about 25,000 votes.Full Article: Erdogan’s party challenges election results after apparent defeat in Turkey’s cities - The Washington Post.
Israel: Cybersecurity researchers find security flaws in Likud, Labor party Android apps | The Times of Israel
Researchers at Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. said Wednesday that they had found “serious security breaches” granting access to “highly sensitive personal information” in the Android phone apps of the Likud and Labor parties. “There has been much talk of impact attacks on social networks and we learn more and more about the offensive capabilities of various countries and entities in cyberspace. But we often ignore the factor that allows these attacks — access to sensitive information we share, sometimes without any intention of doing so,” Check Point said in a emailed statement. “Sensitive information such as political opinion, social contacts, demographic data, telephone numbers, and addresses of us and those close to us can be of great help to the various elements operating in cyberspace,” the statement said.Full Article: Cybersecurity researchers find security flaws in Likud, Labor party Android apps | The Times of Israel.
Afghan authorities say they have launched an investigation into allegations that two election commissions misused their authority during last year’s general elections. The country’s Attorney General’s Office announced the investigation late on February 12, after all 12 members of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) were dismissed for allegedly abusing their authority. The seven IEC officials and five IECC staff were also barred from leaving the country, the office said in a statement. The electoral officials were heavily criticized following the October parliamentary polls, which were marred by inefficiencies including absent electoral staff and missing voting materials. Final results for all 15 provinces are yet to be announced.Full Article: Afghanistan Investigating Fired Electoral Officials.
Egypt’s parliament is accelerating the process of passing constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office well beyond the end of his current term in 2022. Lawmakers will decide Wednesday on whether to send the amendments to the legislative committee, a vote that was initially scheduled for Feb. 17, parliament spokesman Ahmed Saad el-Din said late Sunday. The legislative committee will have 60 days to discuss the amendments before a final vote. If approved, the amendments would be put to a national referendum. The move to extend presidential terms comes amid concerns that Egypt is slipping back into authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule.Full Article: Egypt accelerates efforts to extend el-Sissi's rule | World | lancasteronline.com.
In June 2017, the Knesset Science and Technology Committee devoted a hearing to the cyber threat against Israel’s elections. Experts assured lawmakers that ballots are not under threat because the Central Elections Committee has an independent, closed-circuit system that cannot be hacked. “We decided not to go over to computerized voting, mostly because of what happened in the US presidential election,” an Israeli source close to the elections committee told Al-Monitor. “We would rather count the votes [by hand] at a slower pace, and ascertain that there is no possible infiltration of a computerized system by external elements.”Full Article: Israeli elections exposed to cyber manipulations.
With the use of electronic and biometric voting machines dismissed by the apex electoral body ahead of last year’s general elections on account of ‘technical difficulties’, another private company has sought to reignite the debate by introducing its prototype. The new electronic voting machine (EVM), developed by ElectronBallot, was unveiled in the federal capital on Monday. Rizwan Kamran, the chief executive officer of the company, introduced the machine as an alternative to conventional voting (paper ballot). He claimed that the machine can deliver final, verified and official results on the night of an election. Moreover, he said that the machine was capable of delivering results to a centralised location. “Digital elections do not mean they are safe,” he warned, adding that they could employ mathematical tools to make the electronic voting process more transparent.Full Article: New electronic ballot machine launched | The Express Tribune.
Israel: Election law ‘screams out’ for update to thwart online abuse, judge warns | The Times of Israel
The chairman of the Central Elections Committee on Thursday appealed to the Israeli media to help protect the April 9 national elections from illicit foreign interference by, among other precautions, refusing to report news from anonymous sources. Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer said current election law, which does not extend to digital media the basic transparency requirements that have long been applied to traditional media, “screams out” to be updated. But in the absence of such a change, local media needed to take additional care, Melcer said, to prevent the spread of stories that were unsubstantiated and possibly malicious and false. (The ruling Likud party has to date been preventing the necessary unanimous agreement among existing Knesset parties to extend those requirements voluntarily.) Addressing a press conference at the Knesset called one day before the onset of the 60 day period during which, according to law, the media is banned from facilitating election propaganda, Melcer said journalists should employ their instincts and common sense when it came to any material, notably including survey results, that looked odd.Full Article: Israel election law 'screams out' for update to thwart online abuse, judge warns | The Times of Israel.
Egyptian lawmakers have proposed changes to Egypt’s constitution, including amendments to expand the military’s powers and to allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to remain in office following the end of his second term, and potentially until 2034. The amendments have sparked controversy in the country, drawing mixed reactions from members of parliament, analysts and activists. The suggested alteration to Article 140 of the constitution would extend presidential terms from four to six years, and changes to Article 200 would allow the military to ensure “that the principles of the June 30 Revolution are observed,” which means preventing Islamists from ever rising to power. The amendments are being packaged with progressive changes, to make them more palatable to the public.Full Article: Egyptians split as lawmakers pave way for Sisi to be 'president for life'.