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Democracy and Citizenship: Election Experiences in Turkey

by MarioninTurkey (7/25/2007)

Experiences on Sunday

Experiences on Sunday 22 July 2007


The Big day came this past Sunday to vote! It was exciting. You can always tell when it is Election Day.  Usually in Turkey Sunday mornings are very quiet and not too much is stirring – except the cats and dogs on the street.


July 22nd was different. As we went out to vote there were lots of people out for a walk. They were all either heading to or coming from the same place – the polling station.


For some it seemed like a family outing – a group of 5 or 6 people strolling along together.  Elderly people were leaning on the arms of their children.  Young kids were excited to be going along with their parents to witness their important execution of a duty of citizenship.


Just like 2002, I went with my friend to her polling station first, and then she would come with me the 5 minutes walk to the school that was to be my polling station.


When we arrived at the school only one entrance was open, with a narrow gate, I guess to stop threatening groups storming the polling station, and there were police on duty.  (Due to election laws, the sale of alcohol is banned on polling day, and even if you have a license you may not carry a gun.) However the police seemed to be having a relaxed time of it, as everyone was in a bright and cheerful mood, having got up early to avoid the heat of the day.


Everything seemed orderly and calm as my friend looked on the notice board to see which room she would go to cast her ballot. We went to the first floor to ballot box number 4368 and we were relieved to see our efforts in coming early had paid off – the line was short! I pitied elderly people who had to go up flights of stairs, there was no elevator to help them. 


It seemed really well organized. Each ballot box was in a separate classroom, with the electors queuing in the corridor outside, many fanning themselves because of the heat.


Just two people in front of us were some of my friend’s neighbors. One of them is an older woman who lives on the ground entrance and seems to be interested in everybody’s business and is not very happy. She did not even greet us. I offered to help her down the stairs but she snarled a “no, thank you.”  In contrast, the sweet neighbor, who lives in Germany and had come back to Turkey specifically at this time because she wanted to vote, was surprised and elated to see us as foreigners. She did not know that my friend had dual citizenship.


My friend was in and out in 15 minutes, sporting a new ink-stain on the index-finger of her left hand.  When we knew they were going to tie in voting with our ID numbers this time round we had heard their wouldn’t be any need for this India ink which takes a month or so to wear off.  But, sadly, we all still have to be marked to avoid people voting twice.  Considering the progress in computerization this seemed a little out-dated, but Turkey is a large country and election procedures have to fit the villages as well as the large cities. Many ladies carried refreshing tissues into the polling room so they could wipe their finger as soon as it had been marked, in order to minimize the stain.


We had enjoyed seeing a very nice and clean state school (they had a banner hanging up outside saying the State Education Ministry had given them a White Flag Award for Cleanliness and Hygiene).  And the grade teacher had obviously taken pride in decorating the classroom: the children’s artwork was everywhere, including on the blackboard.


On to my polling station: a private school nearby.  In contrast to the small playground at the state elementary school, this was set in lovely grounds.  It even had an aviary with ducks, geese and other birds.  All the voters stopped on their way in to admire the peacock who was making the most of a more adult audience to display his fantastic plumage!


This school had the ballot boxes laid out in a main hall, and we joined the queue for box 4365.  Being a private school there was air-conditioning and, a nice touch, they had cold water in water-fountains available for everyone to help themselves too.  Very much appreciated as temperatures soared to 35 degrees outside.


When my turn came I found myself standing in front of four people. I handed the first official my identity card and print out of polling card. The next person gave me the ballot and envelope. Another person handed me the ink stamp to use to mark the party I was endorsing. The fourth person was an invigilator. He was there to ensure everything went according to procedure and that I put my sealed envelope in the ballot box without interfering.  Some were teachers, others different civil servants who had given of their Sunday to enable the smooth running of the democratic process in their country.


I made my way to the booth, which had cardboard up on three sides to give the elector privacy.  The ballot could be overwhelming for some- it was as long as my arm! Since I am use to usually only having a choice of 2 or 3 parties, it seemed to have far too many to choose from. I did not take time to study the ballot. I just looked for the party symbol I wanted to endorse and put my stamp there! Later, I heard it had 11 parties and 54 independents on it: an amazing set of 65 circles to choose from: only one was to get the stamp “EVET” (yes)!


I do not know if this is really true but I saw a TV report that some people in lower educated areas were able to identify which party they had previously decided to give their vote to by holding a piece of string stretched from the end of the page to the end of string. There they put their mark. I thought this idea was clever but feared for them if they had the ballot upside down!


After I “posted” my envelope through the slot, I had to sign the electoral list, and I got my drop of indelible ink.  Or, I should say, a huge lake of ink.  It ran down the sides of my nail before I could dab some of it off to make it less obvious.  Starting a light purple color it doesn’t look too bad.  But within a short while it is a jet black stain, that no amount of scrubbing will get off.  We ladies can cover some of it with nail varnish, but still a large splodge shows on the skin surrounding the nail. 


I guess I should view it as a badge of pride.  Turkey is a democracy that gives free and fair voting rights to its citizens.  Long may that continue!

<< Previous
e-State: Turkey well and truly in the computer age: 2007

1. Finding the right place to vote : 2002
2. e-State: Turkey well and truly in the computer age: 2007
3. Experiences on Sunday

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