EU calls for investigation into alleged vote rigging in Turkey’s referendum

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Electoral staff members count votes after polls closed in Turkey's tightly-contested referendum on expanding the powers of the president on April 16, 2017 in Istanbul. Turkey was voting to decide whether to expand the president's powers in a bitterly-contested referendum set to determine the future course of the key NATO member and EU hopeful. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

In carefully crafted comments, the European Union has called for an investigation into alleged irregularities during a referendum in Turkey on Sunday, which gave sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

EU Commission Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas has called on Turkish authorities and all relevant actors “to launch transparent investigations” into the alleged vote fraud.

Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) issued a controversial ruling on the day of the vote to accept ballots in envelopes not bearing official polling station stamps, raising suspicions about the legitimacy of the unstamped ballots.

Schinas also said the Turkish government should seek the broadest consensus possible when taking the next steps following the referendum.

The EU has been strongly criticized for remaining mostly silent about the drastic backsliding of democracy in Turkey in a bid not to harm a refugee deal that has proven successful in preventing refugees from arriving in Europe.

Asked about plans by President Erdoğan to reinstate the death penalty, the spokesperson said capital punishment was the “reddest line of the EU” and that such a move would mean Turkey no longer wants to be a part of the European family. However, Schinas refrained from giving specifics on possible sanctions.

He also confirmed that EU High Representative Federica Mogherini had talked to the OSCE head of mission in Turkey.

In its first statement after the referendum, the OSCE team had cast serious doubts on the results.

“The Supreme Board of Elections issued instructions late in the day that significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law,” it said.

The OSCE was also critical of the unlevel playing field. “The 16 April constitutional referendum in Turkey was contested on an unlevel playing field, and the two sides in the campaign did not have equal opportunities. While the technical aspects of the process were well administered, voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and limitations on fundamental freedoms had a negative effect,” the statement noted.

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