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The Prelude to an Election: Turkish Political Parties Name Candidates

The Prelude to an Election: Turkish Political Parties Name Candidates

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This policy brief sheds light on the particulars of Turkey's upcoming elections in terms of the electoral system, candidate designation, and the criteria used by political parties to determine their candidates.
This policy brief sheds light on the particulars of Turkey's upcoming elections in terms of the electoral system, candidate designation, and the criteria used by political parties to determine their candidates.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Apr 19, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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On June 12, 2011,Turkey will hold parliamentaryelections, the outcome of whichwill determine whether the ruling AKP can gain enough seats tochange the Turkish constitutionby itself or whether such aneffort will require the effectiveparticipation of other parties.In this analysis piece, Prof.
İlter Turan sheds light on the
particularities of the upcoming elections in Turkey in terms of  the electoral system, candidatedesignation, and the criteriaused by political parties whiledetermining their candidates.Prof. Turan also discusses how allparties, because of the pressure to increase the number of women and young persons and the need to expand the basis onwhich they try to build a winning coalition, have introduced majorchanges in their candidate lists.
 The Prelude to an Election: Turkish Political Parties Name Candidates
by İlter Turan
April 19, 2011
, DC
Te excitement surrounding thenews o who will get on party ticketsor urkey’s June 12 parliamentary elections lasted until the evening o Monday April 11, when parties handeddistrict lists to the High Board o Elections, and has now been replacedby joy, celebration, rustration,protests, resignations, and a variety o emotional outbursts by the aspirants.Due to the peculiarities o the urkishelectoral system, the composition o the next legislature is already estab-lished, give or take a ew. What stillneeds to be known is whether eachparty will get the percentages the pollspredict and how many seats partieswill win in the elections. urkey isentering two months o intense elec-toral competition. Te outcome may well inuence how the urkish polit-ical system takes shape in the uture.As urkey enters an electoral period, itmay be useul to oer a brie descrip-tion o the urkish electoral system,the process o candidate selection, anappraisal o the candidates, and why the outcome o the elections may provecritical or the uture o the urkishpolitical system.
The Electoral System
Te urkish electoral system is basedon proportional representation. Teelectoral districts are multi-memberdistricts that are co-terminous with thecountry’s administrative subdivisions.Aer 1983, those districts with majorconcentrations o population, such asIstanbul or Ankara, were divided intotwo or three sub-districts to reducetheir excessive size. Parliamentary seats are distributed among districtsby the High Board o Elections,comprised o members o the judiciary,on the basis o their population duringthe most recent census. Becauseadministrative electoral districts areo varying size, the number o depu-ties sent by a district to the GrandNational Assembly varies between twoand thirty. And because each o the81 provinces gets a seat beore the restare distributed, smaller provinces aresomewhat over-represented.Te party ticket in each districtcontains the rank-ordered names o candidates. Aer the completion o the vote count in each province, theHigh Board o Elections determinesthe parties that have reached the 10percent national threshold. Seatsin each district are then distributed
among these “qualied” parties using an arithmetical rank-ordering ormula based on the actual number o votes eachhas gotten. Tis means that the candidates o major partieswith high rankings, particularly in larger districts, areassured o being elected the moment nominations becomeormal. During the elections, parties basically strive to get ahigher percentage o the vote than the previous election inorder to have candidates urther down the list elected.Te 10 percent national electoral threshold is said to be thehighest in the world. All parties talk about lowering it. Butbecause it allows over-representation o the bigger parties inthe legislature, they choose to retain it. Te national elec-toral threshold has guided parties that do not expect to get10 percent o the vote to devise means to gain access to theparliament. Until the 2007 elections, a small party usually negotiated with a “host” party that was assured o receivingmore than 10 percent o the vote or a number o electableslots. In return, the small party would not participate inthe elections, directing its voters to the host party. Aer theelections, the deputies o the small party would resign romthe party under whose banner they had been elected andreturn to their original party.In the elections o 2007, the Democratic Society Party (DP), an ethnic Kurdish party, devised a new way orgetting around the national threshold by oering indepen-dent candidates whose party afliation was unmistakable.Its candidates won in 19 districts, including not only themainly Kurdish districts in the Southeast but also majorpockets o immigrants in metropolitan areas. Tis strategy,however, requires a highly disciplined band o votersconcentrated in a particular locale that are willing to takeinstructions rom a party, and as such is open to ew i any other parties.In the upcoming elections, no small party has opted orcooperating with a host party. Te Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) that has replaced the DP, which was closeddown by the Constitutional Court, however, is going toemploy the same strategy again. It anticipates doublingthe number o its parliamentary seats this time. In thisway, although there are 20 or so parties that will appearon the ticket, the race will be conned to our parties: thecurrently governing Justice and Development Party (AKP),the major opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) andthe Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and the BDP, which isrunning independent candidates.
Becoming a Candidate
Tere are two basic ways o becoming a candidate orelected positions in a democracy. Te one best known to theAmericans is a primary election. At the opposite end is asystem best exemplied by Britain, where national organs o a political party decide who shall be made a candidate. Teurkish system oers both options. In its original planning,it was anticipated that intra-party primaries would be thestandard method o identiying candidates, while nationalparty organs would intervene in a ew districts whereholding primaries seemed problematic or one reason oranother. Practice has evolved in the opposite direction. Allparties have opted or determining their candidates at thecenter. Tat the entire electoral process is condensed intothree short months to escape long drawn-out, expensive,tension-ridden, and divisive campaigns has reinorced thepreerence or centrally determined candidate designation.
The Turkish electoral systemis based on proportionalrepresentation.The 10 percent national electoral threshold is said to be the highestin the world. All parties talk aboutlowering it. But because it allowsover-representation of the biggerparties in the legislature, theychoose to retain it.
In designating candidates rom among a large number o aspirants, the national leadership is naturally constrainedby the preerences o the party’s provincial branches, theexpectations o voters, and the “manpower” needs o theparty among others. Te challenge is indeed ormidable. Inregard to the oncoming elections, in which 550 seats willbe contested, while the AKP expects to win 300 or so, it hasreceived over 6,000 applications. In the CHP, which may have around 120 sae seats, the numbers reached almost4,000. Tese include, in addition to the incumbents, retiredhigh-ranking bureaucrats, university proessors, journalists,union and other civil society leaders, and many who havetoiled in provincial organizations or years, hoping that oneday their turn to serve in the legislature would come. Teaspirations o some are ullled, but many are rustrated.Tis time, expressing that intra-party democracy would beenhanced by the holding o primaries, the CHP chose tohold primaries in 29 districts where a number o incum-bents ailed to get to an “electable” spot on the ticket. imewill tell i the party will bring more districts into holdingprimaries in the uture.
Candidate Selection as a Method of Change
Observers look or signs o change as the parties announcetheir candidate lists. Tis time, it seems, all parties haveintroduced major changes. Changes in the CHP wereexpected since the party had recently changed its leader.Te new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, had already begun tochange members o the leadership cadre and ideologicalunderpinnings o the party, moving rom a strongly nation-alistic line to one in closer conormity with social democ-racy. Not surprisingly, 64 o 101 incumbents did not makeit to the list. But the mood or change has not been connedto the CHP. Te governing AKP list ailed to include 167o 333 incumbents. MHP removed 26 out o 72. Te ewincumbents who chose not to run are included in thesegures. Also, in each party, some incumbents have beenplaced in non-electable places on the ballot.What does this major turnover o candidates and thereoreturnover o deputies indicate? o begin with, all partiescame under pressure to increase the number o womenand young persons. Although the numbers are in need o improvement, each party has increased its number o elect-able women considerably. Te percentage o women in thenext parliament may reach 20 percent, more than doublethe current gure. Te urkish parliament will also have aew members younger than 30 or the rst time.Second, all parties have tried to expand the basis on whichthey try to build a winning coalition. Te CHP has givenplaces to a prominent Kurdish lawyer noted or his recordin striving or the improvement o the observation o human rights, to leaders o civil society organizations, andto persons who are more amiliar with the operation o themarket economy. Nevertheless, the party continues to beaced with a dilemma. Its constituents include many voterswho saw the urkish military as a guarantee or the protec-tion o the regime’s secular character. Tey nd the ongoingErgenekon trials as an eort by the religiously orientedgovernment to undermine the (political) power o military.wo persons, a university proessor traditionally associ-ated with the center right and a journalist, both still underarrest, have been put on electable spots. While such gesturesmay keep the loyalty o the ideological secularists oensuspected o pro-military sympathies to the party, there isno question that the AKP will take the opportunity to dwellupon the questionable pro-democracy credentials o themajor opposition.Te MHP has recruited some ormer politicians o thecenter right as candidates, hoping to appeal to those who
The new leader, Kemal
Kılıçdaroğlu, had already begun
 to change members of theleadership cadre and ideologicalunderpinnings of the party, moving from a strongly nationalistic line to one in closer conformity withsocial democracy.

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