Turkey Elections: Down to the wire

In January, I published my article “The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections,” in which I identified the 15 national elections around the world that I thought presented the most intriguing or important questions this year. Chronologically, Turkey’s parliamentary election held today will come as number five for the year (tied with Mexico, which is holding its midterm legislative elections today too).

Here are the questions I identified in January for Turkey’s election today:

Can PM-turned-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party continue to consolidate its electoral mandate in the assembly (and consolidate power to the presidency instead of the prime minister’s office) in the face of mounting questions about the government’s Syria policy, Kurdish policy, family policies, and general authoritarian trends? Mathematically, even without any authoritarianism, the answer is probably yes. Should they? That’s a trickier question.

The mathematical question is shaping up to be a potentially much more gripping one than expected then. The dramatic and complex Kurdish political gamble (see my explanation from March) actually looks like it has a shot of paying off in the form of the Kurdish HD Party clearing its entry threshold to join parliament — though it is still very much on the margin of success and failure. If they win just over 10% of the vote, Erdogan’s aspirations for constitutional reform will likely collapse because the HD Party will taken some 50 seats that the AKP could otherwise use to reach a supermajority. If the HDP win slightly less than 10%, they’ll be wiped out completely and amendments will happen. They are hovering on the brink according to polling analyzed at the Al-Monitor link above. There have also been violent bomb attacks against Kurdish political supporters in recent days; the reaction from Erdogan — whose dreams are threatened by the HDP’s surging support — was not overly sympathetic.

[ Side note of procedural interest: There’s also an element a bit similar to the recent UK elections where as low as 38% of the vote could translate to a (narrow) AK majority, like the 37%-of-votes Conservative parliamentary majority obtained in Britain. However, Turkey doesn’t have first-past-the-post but rather multi-member proportional representation (after the absurdly high 10% national threshold) where each district is proportionally represented according to its own internal vote ratio, once the national threshold eliminations are reached. ]

One of the other takeaways from the polling is that the non-Kurdish opposition in Turkey needs to really get its act together if they want to ever get back into government democratically to resist bad governance (which it has been in the past couple years after a decade of much better governance), as opposed to whining and complaining unproductively about bad governance (or random other things). CHP and MHP, the two largest parties by size between the dominant AKP and the marginal HDP, are polling 42.6% between the two of them, which is actually higher than AKP alone (41%). Separately, the MHP itself only narrowly clears the 10% threshold.

Unfortunately for would-be anti-AK voters, getting their act together is not as simple as, say, consolidating to end “vote-splitting” — given that that the MHP (“Grey Wolves”) are a right-wing stone’s throw from fascism, while the CHP (left-Kemalists) are mild democratic socialists. I doubt Grey Wolves overlap broad voting constituencies with the CHP.

It’s bigger than that anyway. In the last parliamentary election the CHP only got 11 million votes versus AKP’s 21 million. Even if you leave out the MHP or the HDP and looked elsewhere to consolidate liberal secular voters into one camp, the gap would be huge. Consider that the last time around the biggest party outside the threshold barely cracked 500,000 votes (and they were right-wing Sunni anyway, not secular/liberal/leftist). At best, the liberals could maybe squeeze out a few million more votes by consolidating a bunch of tiny leftist and center-right parties which would still put them millions away from catching AK. Perhaps voter turnout could be increased among supporters, but so far I haven’t seen numbers suggesting that by itself would be a viable pathway back to power.

Mainly the secular Turkish opposition (liberal or conservative) is just sort of … bad at politics in a plural democratic environment. The urban-centered secular parties tend to ignore or insult the vast sea of rural voters, who then remain in the gravitational orbit of the AK Party, year after year.

They also previously have not favorable toward cooperation with left-wing Kurdish politicians despite some fairly obvious opportunities for picking up coalition support from them in the event of a Kurdish party passing the 10% threshold. However, that might finally be changing as the new HD Party not only surges but changes the script preordained for this election:

[…] the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is becoming a national movement with an agenda for the whole country. They have been making a point of campaigning everywhere in this election, and I think they will reap the benefits of that on Sunday night. There is an increasing number of Turks who are ready to vote for them, not only because they are aware of potential post-election parliamentary balances, but also because they believe in the liberal values and sincerity of the HDP. Turkish politicians have not been talking openly to their constituents about the Kurdish reconciliation process, so their Kurdish counterparts are filling the vacuum. Think about that: Kurdish leaders are reaching out to Turks with a normal agenda.

This election might at least actually provide an electoral roadmap for moderate and centrist secularists to get out of impotent opposition and back into power in the next elections, even though they are very unlikely to unseat the AKP this time. On the other hand, if the AK Party wins enough seats to make its sweeping constitutional reforms… Well, that would be another story entirely.

This election is, therefore, down to the wire on that 10% threshold for the Kurdish HDP. If they cross it, the AKP will likely win only a simple majority. If they fall to cross it, the AKP will hold a supermajority and the Kurds will be politically eliminated from national governance.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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