The Geriatric Vote

There is a certain prestige involved in being the world’s oldest person. The oldest living person on record (Biblical accounts are not considered records in these things) was a Russian woman who died earlier this week, supposedly at age 128.

Her age has been disputed – there were no records of her birth, and allegations she may have added on a year or two to qualify for an early pension. Still, you can find verified accounts of people living well past the century mark. With the improvements of modern medicine, I guess that isn’t surprising.

It does come as a surprise though to discover that so many elderly people live in Turkey. Even more surprising is that those senior citizens have suddenly developed an interest in civic affairs. Turkey has an election coming up in March, and the voters list is out. Turns out more than 6,000 registered voters are more than 100 years old. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there are more centenarians in Turkey than the rest of the world combined.

Having worked in politics, I know that senior citizens are a vocal minority and governments must take their needs into account. Fail to provide for the elderly and they will vote against you en masse.

Which might mean trouble for Turkey’s ruling party. It seems that many, perhaps most of those aged voters have never before been registered to vote. That they have made the effort this time may indicate they want change.

Ayse Ekici is one of those first-time voters. He has given no media interviews, which is a shame because I would think he has a lot to say about the state of Turkish politics. In his long life he has seen a lot. He might have some wisdom to impart. Then again, at 154 years old he probably doesn’t have much energy for anything except marking his ballot. No, that isn’t a typo, Ekici was supposedly born in 1854 when Turkey was still a part of the Ottoman Empire. Come to think of it, he would have been a senior citizen when the Empire gave way to the Turkish republic. The man is too old to have been a soldier in the First World War.

I would never suggest that Turkish authorities are perhaps les than trustworthy, that the voters list may have been manipulated by someone for political gain. You would think anyone who was able to do that sort of thing would be smart enough to not make it so blatantly obvious. The again, I’ve met a lot of people working in politics who did stupid things.

From the voters list you can also wonder if Turkey has housing issues, especially with overcrowding. That would explain the thousand voters with the same apartment as their address. Not the same building, the same apartment.

Democracy is an imperfect system, though overall significantly better than anything else we humans have devised for self-rule. In countries with authoritarian traditions (which I dare say includes Turkey) the transition to a democratic system isn’t always a smooth one.

Even those countries with long democratic traditions can have electoral irregularities, real ones, not just presidential blathering. What becomes crucial in those cases is how they are handled. Can the system withstand attempts to corrupt it?

I’m sure that is a question many Turks are asking today. Or maybe not, given that much of the media is controlled by the ruling party.

I’m curious to see what the voter turnout is on election day, and whether anyone is going to challenge these electors to prove their age and their right to cast a ballot. I’d bet that not one of them will look their age, and that poll clerks will look the other way.

Which just might be what the Turkish government wants.

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