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Critical Elections Behind, Critical Problems Ahead

Critical Elections Behind, Critical Problems Ahead

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This policy brief explains the importance of Turkey's June 12 parliamentary elections.
This policy brief explains the importance of Turkey's June 12 parliamentary elections.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jun 16, 2011
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06/16/2011

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Summary
: The June 12 electionsin Turkey were important formany reasons. To begin with, the major opposition party hadchanged its leader, and the newleadership chose a strategy of persuading the voters. Next, there was great anxiety that theNationalist Action Party mightfail to go over the 10 percentnational electoral threshold at the polls. Further, there wereconcerns that the Justice andDevelopment Party (AKP) would
obtain a sufcient number of 
seats to change the constitutionby itself. But the election initself was uneventful. Onemajor outcome was the virtualelimination of small parties that were at one time “grand.”The outcome also shows that the general direction in which the major opposition party hasbeen transforming itself hasbeen paying off. The success of  the BDP with its independentcandidates has reinforced itsclaim to be the spokesman of Kurdish aspirations. The majorconcern that the AKP might get
a sufcient number of seats
 to change the constitution byitself has not materialized. In alllikelihood, the burden of making a new constitution will fall on theshoulders of the AKP and theCHP.
Analysis
Critical Elections Behind,Critical Problems Ahead
by İlter Turan
June 16, 2011
 
Offices
Analysis
Some elections are deemed importantbeore they occur, others are judgedto have been important only in retro-spect. Te June 12 elections in urkey appear to be a candidate or beingdesignated important both
ex ante
and
ex post 
.
Pre-Election Concerns
Last Sunday’s elections were seen asbeing critical in advance. o beginwith, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the major opposition party,had changed its leader, a developmentaccompanied by changes among theleadership cadres and party poli-cies. Aer the change, the CHP choseto move toward pragmatism andissue- and policy-oriented politics, incontrast to the previously prevailingideological approach that limited party activities to what the party leader-ship deemed as the deense o basic values o the republic. Earlier party policy had also relied on other pillarso the republican state, such as theconstitutional court, to pursue politicalgoals as a substitute or mobilizing voter support. Te new leadership,on the other hand, chose a strategy o persuading the voters. Whetherthe changes in CHP policies wouldbe vindicated at the polls constituteda question o major interest not only because this would aect the imme-diate outcome but also because o itsimplications or the uture o urkishdemocracy, which lacked an opposi-tion that seemed to have a reasonablechance, one day, o becoming thegovernment party.Next, there was great anxiety that theNationalist Action Party might ailto go over the 10 percent nationalelectoral threshold at the polls. Tecontinued presence o the NAP in theparliament was elt to be important ortwo reasons. First, ailure would havehelped the government party (and alsothe opposition) to be overrepresented,possibly allowing the governmentparty to change the constitution by itsel. Second, a parliamentary orcethat would balance the Kurdish ethnicnationalism represented by the Peaceand Democracy Party (BDP) would bemissing.Further, there were concerns that i theJustice and Development Party (AKP)obtained a sucient number o seatsto change the constitution by itsel, orbe in a position to approve a text thatwould then be submitted to a publicreerendum, it might orego eorts o orging a national consensus or a newconstitution and devise the basic lawto its own liking, which would, in all
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ashington
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Analysis
2
 
Analysis
likelihood, include the change o the systemrom parliamentary to some orm o presi-dential government.Te Kurdish ethnicity-based Peace andDemocracy Party was competing againstonly the government party in urkey’s south-east region, as was also the case in the elec-tions o 2007. Judging that it was unlikely toachieve the 10 percent national threshold, inorder to insure that its candidates would getelected, the party had chosen to run its candidates as inde-pendents. Te election would determine whether the party would be able to back up its claim to speak or the popula-tion o the southeast provinces or whether the governmentparty could make a similar claim as well.Finally, in the economic domain, part o the urkisheconomic success in recent years had been attributed tothe stability that a business riendly one-party governmentoered. Businessmen both in the country and abroad,wondered whether such stability would continue aer theelections.In short, there were enough reasons to judge in advance thatthe June 12 urkish elections were “important.”
Post-Election Observations
Aer a hard-driven campaign based on mass rallies duringwhich many an unkind word was exchanged among polit-ical leaders, the election in itsel was uneventul. Te newcomputerized system o reporting the votes to the HighCommission on Elections made it possible to get the resultsabout our hours aer the closing o the polls.Despite expectations that the governing AKP might suera decline in votes since it was going into its third electionin power, the reverse occurred and its share o the voteimproved by more than 2 percent. Te CHP also registereda sizable improvement over its past perormance while theNationalist Action Party experienced a minor decline. TeKurdish-dominated Peace and Democracy as representedby independent candidates registered a modest improve-ment. Te gures by themselves may not communicate,however, the nature o the transormation that urkishpolitics have undergone as a result o the elections.One major outcome has been the virtual elimination o small parties that were at one time “grand.” Tat ourparties together received 95.3 percent o the vote pointsto a process o consolidation in urkish party lie that hadbeen characterized by a wide dispersal o the vote until thelast couple o elections. Such consolidation, which appearslikely to continue, may constitute the background or thesolution to a major problem o democracy in the urkishelectoral system: the 10 percent national threshold. Asthe highest percentage in the world, not only has it comeunder wide criticism as not being democratic, but it hasalso caused considerable distortions in how the voters’choice is refected in the parliament. It generally avorsoverrepresentation o the larger and underrepresentation o the small parties. It may be expected that the winners willbecome more willing to reduce this barrier to entry intothe parliament i they eel that it is not going to hurt themmuch. Inevitably, those parties that have almost gone outo existence will engage in some soul searching, with somedeciding to discontinue their activities while others preerto unite with an already successul party. Tis will acilitatea reconsideration o the very high electoral threshold.Te outcome also shows that the general direction in whichthe major opposition party has been transorming itsel 
The gures by themselves may not
communicate the nature of the transformation that Turkish politicshave undergone as a result of theelections.
Performance of Parties in the 2007 and 2011 ElectionsPartyPercent in 2007Percent in 2011
Justice and Development (AKP)46.549.9Republican Peoples (CHP)20.825.9Nationalist Action Party (MHP)14.212.9Independents (Peace and Democracy or BDP)5.26.6Others13.34.7
 
Analysis
3
 
Analysis
has been paying o. Some sympathetic observers havesuggested that the new leadership o the CHP had not hadenough time to shape the party according to their visions,prepare programs, educate the rank and le, and motivatethem or electoral competition. Others have complainedthat a substantial number o regulars, who were attachedto the leadership cadre that was displaced, lent limitedand unenthusiastic support to the campaign. Tere may be some truth in these diagnoses, but nevertheless, theenergetic campaign during which the new leader KemalKılıçdaroğlu spoke at mass rallies throughout the country,plus some policy proposals that the voters ound interesting— including the shortening o military service and paymento monthly stipends to amilies without income — gener-ated sucient interest to initiate an upward move the inthe party’s vote. It does seem, however, that the avorableperormance o the CHP will not spare the current lead-ership o the party rom heavy criticism emanating romthe old leadership that may still entertain hopes, howeverunrealistic, o making a comeback.Te success o the BDP with its independent candidates hasreinorced its claim to be the spokesman o Kurdish aspira-tions. Although the AKP has run a strong second in someo these provinces and citizens o Kurdish origin living inother parts o urkey do not necessarily all sympathizewith it, it is clear that the BDP has to be taken as a seriouspartner in any process to address urkey’s Kurdish ques-tion in the uture, especially in the anticipated constitutionmaking.
The Critical Problem Ahead: Constitution Making
During the campaign and earlier, all political parties hadcalled or a rewriting o the urkish constitution aer theelection. Tere is no question that the current constitu-tion written under military rule is a highly detailed docu-ment — obsessed with protecting law and order, restrictiveo civil liberties and inclined toward maximizing statepower against the individual — that is not ideal and shouldthereore be changed. It is to be added that there is also anexisting body o law refecting the same spirit as the consti-tution that will need to be revised in order to move urkey in a more democratic direction. Te major concern that theAKP might get a sucient number o seats to change theconstitution by itsel has not materialized. Although it isalways possible or the government party to try to attract aew deputies rom other parties so as to get its own packagethrough the parliament or submission to a public reer-endum, in contrast to earlier times when interparty mobility in the parliament was requent and established practice, thatoption seems not to be currently in avor.Under the circumstances, will the parties in the parliamentsucceed in producing a new constitution? Aer the resultso the election became known late in the evening on June12, Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan, speaking in aconciliatory manner rom the balcony o his party’s head-quarters to a crowd o supporters, promised that the processo constitution making would be inclusionary. He wouldconsult all political parties, he promised. He would alsobring in civil society organizations and academic experts.Yet, there are reasons to anticipate that the road to the newconstitution is going to be a dicult one with no assuranceo success. o begin with, it is unlikely that other parties willaccommodate all Kurdish expectations. Te BDP, which has
There is no question that thecurrent constitution written undermilitary rule is a highly detaileddocument that is not ideal andshould therefore be changed.It is clear that the BDP has tobe taken as a serious partner inany process to address Turkey’sKurdish question in the future,especially in the anticipatedconstitution making.

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