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Turkey’s Parliamentary Elections, Springboard for Erdogan’s Ambitions?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Reza Solat
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

Turkey is currently preparing for its forthcoming parliamentary elections, which have been scheduled for June 7.

Four major political parties along with a number of less important ones will be competing in the upcoming polls. They include the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). There are a number of interesting points about Turkey’s next parliamentary elections.

Firstly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no official post at the Justice and Development Party anymore. He is now the president of Turkey and is legally barred from any kind of intervention in the elections. According to Turkey’s laws, the president should not be member of any political party. Therefore, he will be absent in parliamentary meetings and publicity campaigns launched by the Justice and Development Party. This issue will face the country’s incumbent Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is also secretary general of the party, with the first major test of his tenure. It should be noted that Davutoglu still feels the heat from the country’s former president, Abdullah Gul, who is currently out of the party and is competing for the post of secretary general of the Justice and Development Party.

On the other hand, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is a Kurdish party represented in the forthcoming elections by its leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is engaged in serious rivalry with traditional parties of Turkey as well as the ruling party to get 10 percent of the vote. This issue has been a cause of happiness for the Republican People's Party and the Nationalist Movement Party because the Justice and Development Party’s position among the country’s Kurdish population has greatly improved compared to past elections.

Finally, this is the first time that Turkey’s expatriates will have the right to take part in the parliamentary elections.

The question, now, is why such details about the forthcoming parliamentary elections are important?

First of all, discussions about the necessity of change in Turkey’s election system, in particular, and in the whole system of government, in general, have been ongoing for many years. Under Erdogan as president, many small and big steps have been taken in order to achieve this goal. As a result of those discussions, many positive and negative views have been expressed on the necessity of changing the constitution, especially those articles of the constitution that are related to Turkish citizens or judicial and penal issues. At present, the main concern of Turkish opposition is whether Erdogan would be able to institutionalize many of his Islamist viewpoints within a framework that would be legal, but not necessarily democratic. Of course, the Republican People's Party, led by its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is inclined toward changes that are purported by Erdogan and has been trying to get close to the Justice and Development Party and make Erdogan enter into a coalition with his party. At present, opinion polls show that respective shares of votes for the aforesaid parties in the forthcoming elections will be 41 percent for the Justice and Development Party, 28 percent for the Republican People's Party, and 14 percent for the Nationalist Movement Party. However, analysts are speculating about what impact Demirtas’ Peoples' Democratic Party will have on the arrangement of political forces in Turkey.

At the time being, the vote share of the Peoples' Democratic Party is estimated to stand at 8-12 percent. Any increase in this party’s votes will be beneficial both to it and to the Republican People's Party. However, the way Davutoglu and his party have been managing their publicity campaign shows that they are strongly trying to prevent Demirtas and his party from gaining the 10-percent vote, which would allow them to enter the parliament. As a result, the Justice and Development Party believes that to put Erdogan’s plans in gear, the goal of the parliamentary elections should be set far beyond the establishment of a new parliament and a new government though a majority vote. Erdogan had announced earlier that “I will not be anything like previous presidents. I am not the one to sit at the presidential palace and just sign papers as a titular head of state. I will overcome all obstacles and taboos through the powers that the law has entrusted in me.” It should be noted that the Turkish parliament has 550 deputies. In order to change the constitution, Erdogan would need two-thirds of the lawmakers’ votes. Now, one must wait and see what the Justice and Development Party will do; a party, which has been absolute winner of all Turkish elections, including parliamentary, municipal and presidential since 2001. Therefore, in my opinion, if the Justice and Development Party managed to win over 42 percent of the vote and the Peoples' Democratic Party led by Selahattin Demirtas could not get the 10-percent quorum, in that case, the Justice and Development Party would get 330  parliamentary seats and would be able to amend the constitution through a referendum. As a result, Recep Tayyip Erdogan would take control of traditional institutions in order to boost his power and will change the ruling system. However, if the Peoples' Democratic Party could win 10 percent of the vote, it would be a serious setback to the Justice and Development Party’s plans and a major obstacle to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions.

There is another point which should be taken into account here. The goal of changing the constitution of Turkey, which is being seriously pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party and Erdogan, can raise many questions and ambiguities in the minds of Turkish people. The most basic question is about the powers of the prime minister and his cabinet and how the powers of the prime minister will be balanced with those of the president? What will be the position of parliamentary elections and how parliamentarians will interact with the president? Therefore, the most important issue for political parties is that they fear Erdogan more than they fear the Justice and Development Party because Erdogan has frequently announced and practically shown that he will show no flexibility in the face of the opposition.

The next point is that Turkey is moving in line with the goals of its 2023 Vision, which has a neo-Ottoman background. Erdogan’s triumph in presidential elections gave a great boost to this move and a categorical win in parliamentary elections by the Justice and Development Party will further speed up this process. The reality, however, is that the plans set by opposition parties indicate that the direction in which the government is moving as well as its plans are not possible to change. On the contrary, Erdogan will pursue the realization of the goals it has set for 2023 with more power and motivation.

On the whole, during its rule of Turkey, the Justice and Development Party has been trying to gradually phase out all the other parties and, in better words, assimilate them in order for the Justice and Development Party to emerge as the sole effective political party in the country. During this period, certain groups that have been traditional supporters of the Justice and Development Party have continued their support and no serious discord has developed between them. It should be once more noted that under the Justice and Development Party, as this party gains more power and the government actually turns into a single-party state, other groups gradually lose their power and the ability to put forth their viewpoints. Therefore, despite the presence of various political groups in Turkey, it would be more logical to divide political identity of Turkey along the lines of two ruling and opposition groups as such a division would be more conformant to the reality on the ground in Turkey. As long as other parties have not come up with an economic plan, which would be more effective than that of the Justice and Development Party, this party is sure to continue to win other elections as well.

Key Words: Turkey, Parliamentary Elections, Justice and Development Party (AKP), Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ahmet Davutoglu, Solat

More By Reza Solat:

*Analysis of Upcoming Presidential Election in Turkey: Erdogan in for Possible Win: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Analysis-of-Upcoming-Presidential-Election-in-Turkey-Erdogan-in-for-Possible-Win.htm

*Protests in Turkey: A New Wall Street in Taksim Square: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Protests-in-Turkey-A-New-Wall-Street-in-Taksim-Square.htm

*Analysis of John Kerry’s Turkey Visit and Ankara-Washington Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Analysis-of-John-Kerry-s-Turkey-Visit-and-Ankara-Washington-Relations.htm

*Photo Credit: 123rf.com, Kurd Press

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