Elections in Turkey took place last Sunday and ruling party (Justice and Development Party-AKP) received 49.9 percent of the votes and assured a single-party government despite losing several seats from its earlier majority within Turkish parliament. AKP will hold 325 seats in 550-member national parliament. This allows the ruling party to form a single-party government in Turkey, however, it is short off the majority required for designing a new constitution as party elites promised in election campaign.
First of all, receiving half of the votes is a great success for any ruling party and particularly for AKP before its third term. This implies a wide approval among Turkey’s voters across different cities and regions. This has been presented in Turkish media and by party elites as a historical success. Even though this is partially true, I strongly believe that Tayyip Erdogan (current PM) was less happier on June 13rd (a day after elections) than June 11th (a day before elections). This is mainly because of his party’s seat loss in the parliament. If elections did not take place AKP would be stronger in the parliament today. Nevertheless, it is hard to be disappointed with 49.9 percent support. This support is unprecedented in Turkish political history since 1980 military coup.
Another disappointing factor for Erdogan is that he still could not receive all votes from center-right and far-right voters. This group of voters totals up to 65 percent in 1987, 67 percent in 1991, 67 percent in 1995, 59 percent in 1999 (in addition it is known that a group of rightist groups have supported the winner party DSP), 68 percent in 2002, 72 percent in 2007. In other words, only by appealing to center-right and right voters AKP has the potential of receiving a support around 65 percent however, they are 15 points short off this electoral objective. Currently, only remaining obstacle for collecting these votes is presence of nationalist right wing Turkish party (MHP-Nationalist Movement Party) as a countering force to growing Kurdish and Socialist demands from various regions of Turkey together with concentrated support from Kurdish population in South East Turkey.
Competition for right voters’ support have resulted in harsh comments from two right parties (MHP and AKP) in pre-election period towards each other and their stance towards Kurdish issue. AKP has become more hawkish than before in the run up to the election and commented for the first time in favor of Abdullah Ocalan’s death sentence and its implementation for former PKK-leader imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan. This seemed to result in an electoral advantage for AKP in non-South Eastern but Kurdish populated districts. We know that presence of Kurdish workers in a non-South Eastern district results in an increase of nationalist votes in the same district. (See Horowitz 1985, Ethnic Groups in Conflict for a discussion of a possible process in formation of competing voters). To give an example, MHP lost 7 percent of votes in Mersin, 4 percent in Manisa, 7 percent in Aydin, 5 percent in Hatay, 3 percent in Adana and so on and so forth. Earlier sex scandals within MHP’s ruling elite was expected to disenfranchise its voters in Central Anatolia because of strong moral values that coincide with MHP’s appeal, however, these expectations are not clearly observed. For example, MHP increased votes in conservative districts like Kayseri, Yozgat, Cankiri and remained unchanged in few others. Konya seems to be the city that punished MHP for scandals by 3 percent. However, this might be explained by candidacy of most popular minister in Turkey (Ahmet Davutoglu) from the district. Thus, the competition between MHP and AKP does not seem to be on moral values as expected but mainly on counter-Kurdish votes in districts with Kurdish workers. From that perspective, Erdogan’s nationalist comments prior to election seems to be the right electoral strategy considering how Kurdish supported Democracy and Freedom Bloc candidates have become popular in South East Turkey.
Thus, even the unquestionable and unprecedented winner of the election has reasons to be disappointed or be worried in the future.
Main opposition party CHP (Republican People’s Party) experienced a leadership change since 2007 elections. New leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu appealed less on secularism issue compared to its predecessor and focused more on social policies. We have seen Kilicdaroglu more often in Eastern Turkey than its predecessor organizing meetings, visiting public officials, and using an unprecedented tolerant discourse from Republican Party leadership. This was expected to increase support within South East Turkey where predominantly Kurdish groups live. CHP has not claimed to become the leading party in these regions but aimed to become an alternative or a significant third party in the region. However, only in Batman, Adiyaman and Mus, Republican party have increased its votes and these changes are only marginal. Thus, it seems that efforts in East has not paid back what they potentially lost among non-Kurdish and non-Socialist voters. Party’s vote share is the highest since 1980 coup and the party obtained more parliamentary seats than previous election however, the gap between them and the ruling party seems to disappoint its voters and party leaderships’ expectation to become an alternative for government in coming elections. In Turkish politics, staying outside the government creates difficulties in catering municipalities from the opposition party and CHP holds 13 out of 81 cities’ municipalities in Turkey. It seems like CHP will face an intra-party competition before next election and a possible split that is likely to create only an electorally non-significant minor party and a strong opposition party as it is. Kilicdaroglu, presented the elections as a partial success but CHP voters is simply unhappy. Some criticize the leadership and others criticize party agents in local.
I think the only group which woke up happier than the day before to the day following the election was Democracy and Freedom Bloc or in other words 36 independent candidates and their supporters (mainly Kurdish and/or Socialists). Prior to the election, they have declared 35 as a target compared to 21 in 2007 and they succeeded. This gives them a leverage in constitution making process in Turkey and indicates that they were able to circumvent ten-percent electoral threshold in Turkey through independent candidacy. Still they face a disadvantage of the threshold but not as much as rival center-right and center-left parties which have disappeared and their voters were vacuumed by two-main parties (AKP and CHP). Once significant actors like DYP (True Path Party), DP (Democrat Party), ANAP ( Motherland Party), GP (Genc Party), SP (Felicity Party), DSP (Democratic Left Party), BBP (Grand Union Party) are no longer appealing to anyone and few of them have already disappeared completely from political scene. Maybe for the first time, BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) will enjoy the consequences of threshold as they have become one of four actors in Turkish politics instead of divided right and left and their minor parties as alternatives of alliance to existing government. They still have things to complain from threshold but in its absence they would have to deal with a divided leadership from mainstream Turkish parties. I predict that electoral threshold is likely to remain at least one more election term until the voters are consolidated among these four parties (AKP -CHP-MHP-BDP). Later, we are likely to observe something around 7 percent as a threshold as all four parties guarantee that they will exceed.
In consequence, not much have changed with Elections 2011. Incumbent party remains with exactly the same opposition groups and a new constitution to design. Next four years is likely to bring new problems, challenges or solutions in Kurdish issue, an economic accountability of government, a continuity in pro-active foreign policy, debates on society and its moral values as well as secularism in education, and freedom of expression. In short, `SAME OLD TURKEY` with an ever-ending hope for a better future.