Mark 24 June as the date in your diary, not for an important match in the 20018 FIFA World Cup, but for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidation of their already dominant hold over Turkey. The race is on, but owing to the current climate, President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have a significant head start.
As I point out in a recent op-ed in Haaretz, the timing of the twin Presidential and Parliamentary polls all but guarantees the success of incumbent President Erdogan and his AKP government in both elections. The chances of the opposition winning are about as good as Australia winning the World Cup. It is so unlikely, it’s not even worth thinking about. But unlike sports, Turkish politics is a game where it is not the taking part that counts. It is a winner takes all contest where political opponents are enemies who need to be crushed.
Around the same time that the elections were announced, Turkey’s parliament gave a three-month extension to the ongoing state of emergency, in place since the July 2016 coup. This means the elections will be held under emergency conditions as was the case last year when a constitutional amendment referendum took place. This does not bode well for the prospect of free and fair election. The OSCE which monitored the referendum campaign and the election process reported vastly disproportional media coverage in favour of the yes camp (Erdogan and the AKP) and cases of intimidation against the No camp. The OSCE also noted that the Yes campaign had an unfair advantage because it used state resources and state institutions to bolster its campaign. There were also questionable activities pertaining to polling booth security. Confidence in the voting process was also diminished after last minute changes were made to the validity of voting slip. In other words, the elections were hardly free and certainly unfair. It will be similar this time around. Going back to my football analogy, the opposition’s chances are about as good as Australia facing up against Spain but with a Spanish referee and a ball made from Spanish leather in a Spanish factory owned by a mate of the Spanish team’s captain.
The Presidential Run-off
This time, however, President Erdogan and the AKP have additional advantages. They need not worry about the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The liberal and Kurdish oriented party, which managed to win over ten per cent of the popular vote in the November 2015 elections. The HDP has been all but destroyed through numerous trumped up politically motivated charges of terrorism against the party’s leadership. Erdogan doesn’t need to concern himself about standing against the HDP’s former leader and Presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Once hailed as the Kurdish Barack Obama, Demirtas managed to win nearly 10 per cent of the vote in the presidential run-off in 2014; however, he is currently languishing in jail on absurd terrorist related charges.
Incumbent President Erdogan also need not worry about facing off against a united opposition candidate. Back in 2014 Ekmeleddin IIhsanoglu was the joint nominee of the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). He only won 38 per cent of the vote, despite him actually being a worthy candidate (he was thoroughly vilified in a very negative pro-Erdogan campaign). The CHP’s best bet is to field its leader Kalicdaroglu as its Presidential candidate. Not exactly an exciting figure, Kalicdaroglu has never won an election as CHP leader, only managing to garner around 25 per cent of the vote. Abdullah Gul as an opposition candidate? He’s been out of the fray for over 10 years. And despite differences with his co-founder of the AKP, he has never done much more than make subliminal criticism of his one-time close associate. A joint CHP, IYI and other opposition candidate? Who has the charisma and ability to unify the opposition and receive over 50 per cent of the vote? Send me an email if you know something I don’t.
Simply put, Erdogan will win. I’ll be shocked if he doesn't win first time around, but a win is a win even if it takes a second round. Back in 2014 he overwhelmingly had the media and state organs at his disposal. This time he has all this and more.
So, with Presidential elections in the bag, the only question left is will the AKP get at least half of the 600 parliamentary seats up for grabs (up from 550 following the 2017 constitutional amendments). The answer again is probably yes. Turkey has retained its unusually high 10 per cent of the popular vote threshold which a party must win in order to be awarded seats in parliament. Battered and bruised, the HDP might not pass the 10 per cent mark. If the HDP decides to field its candidates as independents instead, it will have far fewer parliamentary deputies than the 59 it is supposed to have now. Although it appears that the IYI Party will be able to run (previously there were doubts based on technicalities) it is far from guaranteed that the new party will pass the 10 per cent threshold. Let’s not forget that the IYI Party is a breakaway faction of the MHP which itself only won 12 per cent of the popular vote in November 2015. Upon its establishment, the IYI Party only managed to strip the MHP of 4 of its 40 deputies, despite it being led by the respected nationalist Meral Aksener. Meanwhile, the CHP rarely receives more than 25 per cent of the vote. If one were to be really optimistic, maybe the CHP could achieve 30 per cent.
The MHP is running under a joint ticket with the AKP and therefore has its share of seats guaranteed. Perhaps opposition parties could take a page out of the AKP-MHP playbook and create their own alliances with smaller parties to circumvent the 10 per cent threshold? Perhaps, but I doubt this will change much. The Islamic Felicity (Saadet) Party, for example, won just 2 per cent of the vote in the June 2015 elections and less than 1 per cent in the November 2015 re-run. The nationalist Great Union Party (BBP) only won 0.5 per cent in November 2015, the Leftish Vatan won 0.25 and the others are almost too small to count. In other words, even in the unlikely event that these parties put aside their differences to join, say Aksener’s IYI Party, the coalition still might not pass the 10 per cent threshold. And if they were to join the CHP, it would hardly make much of a difference.
It is increasingly likely that the 2018 parliamentary election might resemble the 2002 general election when the AKP received 34 per cent of the vote, but because so many parties failed to pass the threshold translated, the AKP won 66 per cent of parliamentary seats. And with Erdogan voted in as President, this is the final realisation of Erdogan’s political ambitions.
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