07/04/2014 07:49 BST | Updated 04/06/2014 06:59 BST

Ankara's Votes: The Turkish People Standing Up to Be Recounted

'Don't sleep Ankara, make your voices heard' - just one of the chants that rose from the thousands strong crowd as they gathered outside the Electoral Commission building (YSK) early Tuesday afternoon.


Photo galleryAnkara Votes: The Turkish Citizens Standing Up To Be Recounted See Gallery

'Don't sleep Ankara, make your voices heard' - just one of the chants that rose from the thousands strong crowd as they gathered outside the Electoral Commission building (YSK) early Tuesday afternoon.

After last weekend's election that had seen both the AKP and CHP mayoral candidates in Ankara declare themselves 'winners' and a 'victory' speech from Prime Minister Erdogan delivered astoundingly early in the process, AKP secured what seemed to be a clear win and in what was seen as an unofficial referendum on the Prime Minister himself, Erdogan had come out on top.

The Ankara result had come in so early on Monday morning that tiredness allowed at that moment for nothing more than a resigned sigh from those I'd been with who'd been hoping for perhaps, just maybe, a different outcome.

But the week began with citizens in Ankara (where, put your thumb and forefinger together and that tiny gap between is how close the vote was) taking to social media to decry irregularities in the voting process. They quickly mobilised, meticulously going over the information and by Monday night they'd gathered outside the YSK building demanding a recount.

Which is how I found myself on an early plane Tuesday morning for the roughly 45 minute flight to the Turkish capital and then amongst crowds of determined people all out to protect their vote.

Another of the common protest chants rose from the crowds 'thief Tayyip', and to huge cheers from the crowd, a man hoisted a shoebox with euro notes taped to the side of it high into the air - a reference to the 'shoebox of cash' bought to light in corruption allegations which have dogged Erdogan's government in recent times.

After an hour or so on that balmy Tuesday afternoon, the police, along with their intimidating TOMA vehicles (that dispense the water cannon), decided to make an appearance.

There were about 10 minutes in which there seemed to be negotiations going on. It looked like rather than asking the protestors to leave the police just wanted them off the road, so the traffic could start moving again.

All very reasonable.

But as one of the men who'd been participating in the discussions turned his back to walk towards the gathering, presumably to pass the message along, the TOMA trucks deployed the water cannon catching the peaceful crowd off guard and soaking many of them in the process.

The water cannon discharges were not particularly strong as they moved through the road dispersing the surprised crowd.

But the use of water cannon and tear gas on a completely peaceful crowd was done with the lazy abandon of authorities who know there'll be little or no repercussions to these actions.

I watched close up as one of the police team having used tear gas on a fleeing crowd ran and booted what I think was a tear gas canister in the direction of those departing.

I was taking photos at the time - to the annoyance of one of the policeman who then began yelling at me. The words 'Press' with a brandished press card proved less effective that day than hot-footing it out of their way.

But it didn't take long for people to start returning to the front of the YSK building once again.

That evening too, though numbers were much reduced, the young, the old and everyone in between banded together around this common cause - protecting their vote.

52 year old Baki, a teacher, gently admonished me for my smoking habit as we leaned against a railing that Tuesday evening, watching the small crowds continue their chants.

'What do you think about all of this?' I asked him as we watched those who'd remained on the streets.

'I think this is a good thing' he said 'If it was anti-democratic, people wouldn't be out here like this'


Much has been written about Turkey's democracy in recent weeks, whether it's turning away from the democratic path and away from closer ties with the EU. But say what you will about Turkish government actions the people who came out on the streets in Ankara knew exactly what it took to hold their government to account and were willing to do so.

Change is taking place in Turkey and with bans on Twitter and Facebook and the voting irregularities highlighted by citizen action, people are not willing to accept abuses of their rights quietly.

There's been a small victory for many in the country as Turkey's constitutional court on Thursday let the little blue bird out of its cage by lifting the ban on Twitter.

Friday saw the Youtube ban lifted too.

On Friday the Prime Minister hinted that he would, as many had been anticipating, run for the Presidency and said there would be no early general elections.

And so attention will now turn to what comes next.

But the outcome in Ankara, though it make take some time still before a final decision is reached, is vital.

The people in Ankara standing up and demanding a recount aren't blind to the fact that it is clear Erdogan still enjoys majority support in large swathes of the country - a fact made clear in the local election results.

But this was never just about winning or losing.

To talk of Turkey's local elections in terms of simply win/lose is to somewhat miss the point.

Many people I spoke to in Ankara, those who took to the streets, want the outcome of the vote to be fair and fraud free.

I watched this last week as those from left and right political ideologies came together to defend their democratic rights, their right to a fair vote count - and loudly.

Oft quoted to me this past week was Erdogan's words back in the 1990's where he had said about democracy that is a 'tool and not a goal'.

But looking in from the outside and experiencing the local elections, I felt that whilst for Erdogan democracy may well be a 'tool' for many people in the country it is clear democracy is a goal.

Though it will take some time to get there and the journey isn't going to be smooth, it's one that many people in the country seem fiercely committed to.

Whether Prime Minister Erdogan likes it or not Turkey is more than the sum of it's parts, it will not be one man that defines Turkey's future direction.

Another of the people's chants from the streets of Ankara held a poignant message for their leader:

'This isn't the end, this is just the beginning'.

You get the feeling they're right.