Was the Turkish election rigged?

The AKP received 4.5 million extra votes compared to June's election, and people are suspicious

I have been asked by foreign journalists several times over the last few days on whether I think the Turkish election that took place at the start of November was rigged. It's an emotionally loaded question, and should be treated rationally. So I can give you some numbers:

While the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) maintained its votes compared to the June 7 elections, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the (Kurdish) Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) lost 2 million and 1 million votes, respectively. Two small parties that had entered the elections together in June got 300K less this time. There were also 1.3 million additional votes compared to June. Of this, 600K were due to new votes (of which 200K were new registered voters). There were also 700K less invalid votes. Interestingly, more than half of the additional votes were from Istanbul, where the share of invalid votes shrank significantly.

If you do the math, all of this adds up to the 4.5 million extra votes the Justice and Development Party (AKP) got compared to June 7. In other words, it could be that the AKP got all the possible votes it could; most of the defections from other parties as well as the additional votes. Add in other possible factors, such as the speed of the vote count and early victory declarations in the pro-government media, and you can see why people are suspicious.

However, the independent election monitoring initiative Vote and Beyond (Oveo) has stated that minor discrepancies between its own reports and the official results had no bearing on the final outcome. They were present in 50,000-60,000 of the 175,000 ballot boxes. But what about the two thirds of total votes they didn't monitor? After all, I would assume that their presence is not random, no matter how hard they tried.

The economist Erik Meyersson has analysed the election. He has found that, while the MHP’s votes seem to have been adversely affected, “the AKP and HDP vote counts also show evidence consistent with some form of tampering,” especially outside the largest five provinces. “The CHP vote count, on the other hand," he writes, "shows predominantly little change across the different tests.”

Meyersson underlines that “this analysis shows evidence that would be consistent with widespread voting manipulation, not proof of it.” I personally don't see any major problems with his methodology, although a couple of statisticians I spoke to were very critical. But if nothing else, his analysis should lead us to more work. I would especially want him to conduct his tests separately for the Oveo and non-Oveo ballot boxes.

I’ll let Meyersson conclude: “Sunday’s landslide victory by the AKP represents a remarkable comeback for a government that, according to the overwhelming majority of polling companies, looked set to repeat its June loss. Many are now pointing fingers at these pollsters (and analysts overall), asking how they could have been so wrong. But what if they weren’t?”

Emre Deliveli is a Turkish economist and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News

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