Is it really so difficult to give election results? - KEMAL ÖZTÜRK

Is it really so difficult to give election results?

Let me first explain how Anadolu Agency (AA) started distributing election results in Turkey's history. Then I have something to say and to propose to the Supreme Election Board (YSK).

It was five months before the March 30, 2014 local elections. The Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) had made its first coup attempts on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 of 2013, and kicked up a dust. Hence, the approaching local elections were crucial.

Up until then, the election results used to be announced solely by FETÖ's most important media outlet, Cihan News Agency (CHA). It was not seized yet. Discussions had started on how this was a serious security problem.

Up until then, the AA had not released any election results from the ballot box. It had no experience, no human resources, nor a technological infrastructure in this regard. However, it was highly likely for the news agency affiliated with the movement that masterminded the coup attempts to carry out all kinds of tricks and manipulation on the election night.

What did the prime minister say about our releasing of the election results?

We decided as an agency to give the election results. However, our budget would not allow it. We spoke to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I told him that we would use the same election system the Gülen Movement organized, using more than a thousand of its members. He said, “Frankly, it would be great if you could.” In other words, the prime minister too was a little suspicious that we could pull off such a major task in such a short period of time.

We got to the agency and gathered the whole crew. We called fellow colleagues who had election result experience. They had no experience beyond obtaining the results from the YSK's provincial headquarters and using them to make news. The tech team said they had never seen a software that gives election results. The CHA was the only one to have such software. They added that such a comprehensive software would take a year to develop.

One of the most important days in the agency's history

Explaining the situation, I said, “As the state-run news agency, we have no choice but to give the election results. We are going to develop the software, become networked in 81 provinces and 160,000 ballot boxes and do this. And if we cannot do it, we are going to pack our things up and leave. We still have five months before the elections. The software will be developed in four months. There will be a one month test period and then we are going to give the results to the entire media, God willing.”

That day was one of the most important turning points in the history of the agency. God gave us such courage that we set off without any hesitation to save the system in which nobody had faith. Everyone worked together, the agency's staff showed incredible performance.

The CHA crew had given 15 election results. When we announced that we would be releasing the results, they laughed in our face. They were confident we would fail. Many media outlets thought we would fail, so they did not subscribe.

Unprecedented attack on the agency

A week before the elections, we had set up and tested our entire system, so we had made it. Come the night of March 30, 2014, we experienced the most difficult day of our lives. There were unprecedented cyberattacks. The cyber hack account named “RedHack” carried out a worldwide campaign, calling all cyber hackers to attack us, and they did.

The IP numbers of this account were later identified by the Turkish National Police Cyber Crimes Unit. RedHack turned out to be a FETÖ team.

A huge campaign was being carried out against the agency on social media. Our telephone switchboards were jammed, our website crashed. We were constantly receiving attack threats.

Despite all this, the agency released the election results for the first time in its history and did so with success. That night there were four press conferences against the agency, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) had said the same things the CHP said on the night of the referendum last Sunday; they accused the agency of manipulation.

The election results received hours later from the YSK matched those released by the AA and our nobility became clear, there was no illegal tampering. Prime Minister Erdoğan invited our entire crew to the Prime Ministry. He said, “You pulled off a historic task for the country, I congratulate you.” He gifted us all a necktie each and we returned to the agency proud.

Why is YSK slow to give the election results?

If a news agency is able to set up a system that is capable of giving fast election results from the ballot box in five months, with limited resources, why hasn't the YSK been doing this for years? Technology has advanced, science has advanced, organization skills have advanced, Turkey's infrastructure has advanced, but the YSK's election management system has continued to remain the same.

Look at the matters we are discussing in a referendum that will impact the country's destiny: Was the ballot stamped on the front or back? The ballot paper had no stamp. The stamp had “yes” written on it, no it had “choice” written on it, the ballot officer forgot to stamp the ballot paper, et cetera, et cetera.

Technology has advanced so far that there are special ballots that use nano technology, the fingerprint system, eye retina, satellite systems, et cetera. In other words, it is very easy to set up a system and technology that will leave no room for any doubt or debate. I am unable to understand why it is not done.

YSK failed to manage the crisis on election night

The YSK accepting as valid the stamp-less ballot papers and those stamped incorrectly is another matter of discussion. It seems there were similar examples in the past, they had made similar decisions before. But we understood this only hours later. The statement did not come until the late hours of the night and even then the statement was not clear. Once everyone's anger had peaked, the YSK president made a statement, but he could not convince anybody. In other words, they failed to manage the communication crisis because the institute had no press adviser or press team.

Taking courage from all this, the CHP escalated tensions and the people started taking to the streets in protest. This was the matter most emphasized in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) report, giving the image that the election is questionable.

Giving the election results, setting up the system, renewing it, speeding it up, ensuring its security are things Turkey can easily do. However, the institute is very old and unable to renew itself. Hence, due to a stamp error by the ballot officer, the whole country and the world began a huge argument.

My proposal to YSK authorities:

I am a candidate to set up the world's most reliable and fastest election result release system for your institution. I am going to do it for the sake of God, I do not want any payment in return. As long as the country does not argue because of a stamp problem caused by an old school ballot box officer, then my work will be worth it.

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