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Turkish opposition plans half a million election vote monitors

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s main opposition parties and NGOs said they plan to deploy more than half a million monitors and volunteers at ballot boxes across the country to prevent fraud in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

People walk under a pre-election banner depicting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Eminonu district in Istanbul, Turkey, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The opposition, which hopes to end President Tayyip Erdogan’s nearly 16-year hold on power, says recent changes to Turkey’s election law and allegations of fraud in a referendum last year both raise concerns about a fair vote.

The parties, together with non-governmental organizations, said on Thursday 519,000 volunteers and party-appointed monitors would be at the 180,000 polling stations.

The elections come just over a year after Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to overhaul Turkey’s constitution and create a powerful executive presidency he had long championed.

The referendum was marred by a last-minute decision by the High Electoral Board (YSK) to accept unstamped ballots. The opposition and lawyers have said the move jeopardized the legitimacy of the vote and violated electoral laws.

Up to 2.5 million votes could have been affected by the move, a senior official in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had said after the referendum.

Parliament in March approved an election law enshrining the decision to accept unstamped ballots, and last month the electoral board said some voting stations in the largely Kurdish southeast would be relocated - a move the pro-Kurdish HDP party said would make it more difficult for its supporters to vote.

“The changes made to the electoral law have made the elections less safe,” said former European Court of Human Rights judge and former opposition lawmaker Riza Turmen.

“Leaving the administration of the elections to the bureaucracy, security forces and government instead of political parties is worrying,” Turmen said at a news conference.

Yurdusev Ozsokmenler, HDP deputy chairwoman, told Reuters that around 120,000 voters would be impacted by the relocated stations, but that the HDP would help transport voters to the polls and help ensure lawyers were present at polling stations in order to protect against fraud and intimidation.

“There is a state of emergency and it is implemented like martial law in the southeast. These elections will be held under the shadow of a gun,” she said.

The government has said some of the measures approved, such as allowing security forces into polling stations, were needed to counter what it says is widespread voter intimidation by Kurdish militants in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

It has also dismissed criticism of last year’s referendum.

Onursal Adiguzel, deputy chairman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the opposition platform had launched a mobile app where volunteers could coordinate to make sure there were enough delegates at all polling stations.

The app will also provide live vote counts and a database of appeals against irregularities at polling stations, he said.

The CHP, Iyi (Good) Party and small Saadet Party have formed an election alliance ahead of Sunday’s votes to rival an alliance between Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and the nationalist MHP. The HDP is not part of an alliance but is working with the other opposition parties.

Polls have suggested that while the presidential elections may head into a second round run-off on July 8, the ruling party may lose its parliamentary majority after 16 years.

“We are quite determined this time. We feel that it is probably the only chance we have achieved in the last 16 years, and we don’t want to miss that opportunity,” CHP Deputy Chairman Unal Cevikoz told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens