Politicking

The Worst Did Not Happen: A Brief Reaction to the Turkish General Elections

turkey general election results 2015

Provinces coded by dominant party. Key: Red: CHP; Yellow: AKP; Blue: MHP; Purple: HDP

In the Turkish general elections on June 7, Selahattin Demirtas’s predominantly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a leftist party focusing on greater equality and representation of women and minorities, environmentalism, and anti-capitalism, passed the 10% threshold and will send delegates to the parliament. This is a major change for Turkey: it is the first time since the inception of the republic that a Kurdish party has been represented in the Grand National Assembly, and it also serves as the end to the thirteen-year reign of the Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP).

There are 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly, and in order for there to be a government, either a single party must have a majority of seats (276 at minimum) or form a coalition with another party in order to surpass 276 seats. If this fails to happen, snap elections will be called.

AKP was hoping the 10% threshold would exclude HDP, meaning that all votes cast for them would be redistributed proportionally to the parties exceeding the threshold, subsequently allocating seats among the successful parties. In such a situation, an HDP shutout would have largely benefitted AKP, who currently hold 327 seats, 3 votes shy of the minimum required to propose changes to the constitution in the parliament, (when Anadolu News Agency [a state-controlled enterprise] initially released the results thus far, HDP stood at about 9% and AKP 45%, giving AKP a total of 333 seats) and 40 seats shy of the 2/3 majority necessary to actually implement the changes. The desired modifications to the constitution would diminish the influence of the parliament and increase the powers granted to the president, which, until Erdogan’s ascendancy to the position, was a somewhat ceremonial role; divorced from and impartial to any political party and signing off on or vetoing legislation*. Many have seen the proposition as another example of Erdogan’s increasing authoritarian tendencies, and in many ways the election represented whether democracy would prevail or dissolve in Turkey.

The results signify Turks’ resistance to Erdogan’s domination and the fragility of the seemingly indestructible AKP, which had won seven straight local and general elections since the party’s foundation in 2002. Although they still received a higher share of votes than the opposition (AKP received 40.7% of the vote to runner-up CHP’s 25.2%), it is widely seen as a defeat for AKP, who not only failed to get the 330 seats needed for their constitutional plans, but also failed to reach a simple majority of 276 seats, instead receiving about 258**. In order to avoid early elections, a coalition government must be formed, though any combination of the four eligible parties seems unlikely. CHP, a secularist, pro-Western party, has been the main opponent of AKP since the beginning, and chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu flatly said the party would not enter coalition with them. HDP’s Selahattin Demirtas also refuted the idea that HDP would enter coalition, not only because they are further to the left ideologically than AKP, but because the purpose of the party since the beginning was to grant Kurds greater autonomy. It’s possible that rightwing-nationalist MHP will form a coalition with AKP, but they have been extremely wary of their attitudes towards the PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party, recognized by many in the West and in Turkey as a terrorist organization), wishing instead that the group would lay down arms instead of sitting in a mutual ceasefire. And like CHP, MHP are largely secularist and have opposed many of the Islamic reforms AKP has brought about.

Since no party is eager to side with AKP to form a government, even though it seems like it would be impossible to do otherwise, the final option is the highly unlikely scenario of CHP, MHP, and HDP entering coalition. Because MHP so dislikes HDP and regularly accuses them of being in cahoots with PKK, there is almost no chance, if MHP wants to retain its voter base, of siding with HDP, and it should also be mentioned that MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said new elections ought to be called if AKP is unable to form a coalition with either HDP or CHP. At the same time, were CHP and HDP to form an alliance, they would still be well short of the 276 seat minimum.

It’s understandable that Turks would want to celebrate, but there are still many obstacles ahead. Failure to form a coalition government within 45 days gives the president the right to call early elections. This could cause a bit of turmoil, and since this most recent election has been called the most unpredictable election in recent Turkish history, all bets are off when trying to call how things would go in another one. One could posit that disaffected AKP voters might instead vote for MHP, considering they’re the only other predominant rightwing party, thus lowering AKP’s numbers and increasing MHP’s. From another angle, the drop in the value of the lira the day after the election could cause a small panic incentivizing MHP voters or, more likely considering how you look at it, HDP voters to revert to AKP in order to have a stable government and avoid an economic crisis. (I only say HDP because prior to the existence of the party, most of those voters cast ballots for AKP, but as I’ll explain, this seems unlikely.) Of course, AKP voters in the east, primarily Kurdish voters, could drop AKP in favor of the pro-Kurdish HDP, thus diminishing AKP’s share. But all of this is mere conjecture, and the future is unknown.

The main point that should be taken away is that the worst did not happen. Erdogan’s bid to increase executive power by referendum (a move that is wildly unpopular with Turks in general and also very unpopular within the AKP voter base) could have been disastrous, plummeting Turkey into the dictatorship so many have been warning about for so long. AKP has tried to make appeals to form a stable government, citing dour economic consequences should it fail to happen. And this is true; Turks don’t have to look too far back in history to see how highly unsound coalition governments can bring everything to a screeching halt. The coalition formed in 1999 between DSP (Democratic Left Party, an offshoot of CHP, which failed to reach the threshold), MHP, and the Motherland Party (ANAP) against the Virtue Party (FP), an Islamist party that placed third in the elections not far behind MHP and DSP. The party was banned in 2001, and the rocky coalition eventually crumbled. Many voters expressed little faith in the party they previously voted for, with upwards of 80% claiming they would not vote for the same party again. As a result, when elections were held in 2002, the newly-formed AKP rocked the political foundations of the country and swept up over 360 seats, with CHP the only other party represented in parliament.

All this meaning that while it’s good AKP have suffered what might be a mortal blow, the looming threat of an unstable government is something to take seriously. I say this not to be perfectly cynical in a time that should be light, but it’s obvious this is one step, albeit an historic one, along a path that stretches miles before us.

* True to form, Erodgan regularly flounced his required impartiality and openly championed AKP.

** Details will get hammered out later, so this is a floating number.

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