In a meeting room above an upmarket restaurant in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, some 200 people listen as a young lawyer explains what to watch for when votes are counted in Sunday’s pivotal parliamentary election. Tens of thousands of volunteers have signed up to monitor the vote, set to be the closest in more than a decade, in what organisers say is a response an erosion in the rule of law. Oy Ve Otesi (“Vote and Beyond”), was set up the aftermath of anti-government demonstrations two years ago. In last year’s presidential election, it was able to monitor six cities. This time it is targeting 70,000 volunteers in 162 towns.
Sercan Celebi, who quit management consultancy McKinsey to run the movement, said it was driven by diminishing trust in Turkey’s institutions and inspired by the 2013 mass protests that began over government plans to build on an Istanbul park. “We finally saw there were enough people out there to make this happen,” Celebi, 32, told Reuters. “It’s very strongly correlated to the diminishing role of the rule of law in our society … people are losing faith.”
Erdogan has tightened his grip on the judiciary, police and media in recent years. Dozens of critical journalists have faced prosecution, while citizens including a high school student have been taken to court for insulting him on social media.
Turkey nonetheless has a history of broadly credible elections, with the ruling AK Party (AKP) strengthening its majority in three successive votes since 2002. Erdogan, elected last year with 52 percent after more than a decade as prime minister, wants the AKP to win enough of a majority to change the constitution and hand him executive powers. For that, the AKP would need to win three-fifths of parliament’s 550 seats.