Analysis

June 16, 2011

Summary: The June 12 elections in Turkey were important for many reasons. To begin with, the major opposition party had changed its leader, and the new leadership chose a strategy of persuading the voters. Next, there was great anxiety that the Nationalist Action Party might fail to go over the 10 percent national electoral threshold at the polls. Further, there were concerns that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) would obtain a sufficient number of seats to change the constitution by itself. But the election in itself was uneventful. One major outcome was the virtual elimination of small parties that were at one time “grand.” The outcome also shows that the general direction in which the major opposition party has been transforming itself has been paying off. The success of the BDP with its independent candidates has reinforced its claim to be the spokesman of Kurdish aspirations. The major concern that the AKP might get a sufficient number of seats to change the constitution by itself has not materialized. In all likelihood, the burden of making a new constitution will fall on the shoulders of the AKP and the CHP.

Critical Elections Behind, Critical Problems Ahead
by İlter Turan
Some elections are deemed important before they occur, others are judged to have been important only in retrospect. The June 12 elections in Turkey appear to be a candidate for being designated important both ex ante and ex post. Pre-Election Concerns Last Sunday’s elections were seen as being critical in advance. To begin with, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the major opposition party, had changed its leader, a development accompanied by changes among the leadership cadres and party policies. After the change, the CHP chose to move toward pragmatism and issue- and policy-oriented politics, in contrast to the previously prevailing ideological approach that limited party activities to what the party leadership deemed as the defense of basic values of the republic. Earlier party policy had also relied on other pillars of the republican state, such as the constitutional court, to pursue political goals as a substitute for mobilizing voter support. The new leadership, on the other hand, chose a strategy of persuading the voters. Whether the changes in CHP policies would be vindicated at the polls constituted a question of major interest not only because this would affect the immediate outcome but also because of its implications for the future of Turkish democracy, which lacked an opposition that seemed to have a reasonable chance, one day, of becoming the government party. Next, there was great anxiety that the Nationalist Action Party might fail to go over the 10 percent national electoral threshold at the polls. The continued presence of the NAP in the parliament was felt to be important for two reasons. First, failure would have helped the government party (and also the opposition) to be overrepresented, possibly allowing the government party to change the constitution by itself. Second, a parliamentary force that would balance the Kurdish ethnic nationalism represented by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) would be missing. Further, there were concerns that if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) obtained a sufficient number of seats to change the constitution by itself, or be in a position to approve a text that would then be submitted to a public referendum, it might forego efforts of forging a national consensus for a new constitution and devise the basic law to its own liking, which would, in all

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Analysis
likelihood, include the change of the system from parliamentary to some form of presidential government.
Performance of Parties in the 2007 and 2011 Elections Party Percent in 2007 Percent in 2011

Justice and Development (AKP) 46.5 49.9 Republican People’s (CHP) 20.8 25.9 The Kurdish ethnicity-based Peace and Nationalist Action Party (MHP) 14.2 12.9 Democracy Party was competing against Independents (Peace and Democracy 5.2 6.6 only the government party in Turkey’s southor BDP) east region, as was also the case in the elecOthers 13.3 4.7 tions of 2007. Judging that it was unlikely to achieve the 10 percent national threshold, in One major outcome has been the virtual elimination of order to insure that its candidates would get small parties that were at one time “grand.” That four elected, the party had chosen to run its candidates as indeparties together received 95.3 percent of the vote points pendents. The election would determine whether the party to a process of consolidation in Turkish party life that had would be able to back up its claim to speak for the populabeen characterized by a wide dispersal of the vote until the tion of the southeast provinces or whether the government last couple of elections. Such consolidation, which appears party could make a similar claim as well. likely to continue, may constitute the background for the Finally, in the economic domain, part of the Turkish solution to a major problem of democracy in the Turkish economic success in recent years had been attributed to electoral system: the 10 percent national threshold. As the stability that a business friendly one-party government the highest percentage in the world, not only has it come offered. Businessmen both in the country and abroad, under wide criticism as not being democratic, but it has wondered whether such stability would continue after the also caused considerable distortions in how the voters’ elections. choice is reflected in the parliament. It generally favors In short, there were enough reasons to judge in advance that overrepresentation of the larger and underrepresentation of the small parties. It may be expected that the winners will the June 12 Turkish elections were “important.” become more willing to reduce this barrier to entry into the parliament if they feel that it is not going to hurt them Post-Election Observations much. Inevitably, those parties that have almost gone out After a hard-driven campaign based on mass rallies during of existence will engage in some soul searching, with some which many an unkind word was exchanged among politdeciding to discontinue their activities while others prefer ical leaders, the election in itself was uneventful. The new to unite with an already successful party. This will facilitate computerized system of reporting the votes to the High a reconsideration of the very high electoral threshold. Commission on Elections made it possible to get the results The outcome also shows that the general direction in which about four hours after the closing of the polls. the major opposition party has been transforming itself Despite expectations that the governing AKP might suffer a decline in votes since it was going into its third election in power, the reverse occurred and its share of the vote improved by more than 2 percent. The CHP also registered a sizable improvement over its past performance while the Nationalist Action Party experienced a minor decline. The Kurdish-dominated Peace and Democracy as represented by independent candidates registered a modest improvement. The figures by themselves may not communicate, however, the nature of the transformation that Turkish politics have undergone as a result of the elections.

The figures by themselves may not communicate the nature of the

transformation that Turkish politics have undergone as a result of the elections.

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Analysis
has been paying off. Some sympathetic observers have suggested that the new leadership of the CHP had not had enough time to shape the party according to their visions, prepare programs, educate the rank and file, and motivate them for electoral competition. Others have complained that a substantial number of regulars, who were attached to the leadership cadre that was displaced, lent limited and unenthusiastic support to the campaign. There may be some truth in these diagnoses, but nevertheless, the energetic campaign during which the new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu spoke at mass rallies throughout the country, plus some policy proposals that the voters found interesting — including the shortening of military service and payment of monthly stipends to families without income — generated sufficient interest to initiate an upward move the in the party’s vote. It does seem, however, that the favorable performance of the CHP will not spare the current leadership of the party from heavy criticism emanating from the old leadership that may still entertain hopes, however unrealistic, of making a comeback. The Critical Problem Ahead: Constitution Making During the campaign and earlier, all political parties had called for a rewriting of the Turkish constitution after the election. There is no question that the current constitution written under military rule is a highly detailed document — obsessed with protecting law and order, restrictive of civil liberties and inclined toward maximizing state power against the individual — that is not ideal and should therefore be changed. It is to be added that there is also an existing body of law reflecting the same spirit as the constitution that will need to be revised in order to move Turkey in a more democratic direction. The major concern that the AKP might get a sufficient number of seats to change the constitution by itself has not materialized. Although it is always possible for the government party to try to attract a few deputies from other parties so as to get its own package through the parliament for submission to a public referendum, in contrast to earlier times when interparty mobility in the parliament was frequent and established practice, that option seems not to be currently in favor. Under the circumstances, will the parties in the parliament succeed in producing a new constitution? After the results of the election became known late in the evening on June 12, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking in a conciliatory manner from the balcony of his party’s headquarters to a crowd of supporters, promised that the process of constitution making would be inclusionary. He would consult all political parties, he promised. He would also bring in civil society organizations and academic experts. Yet, there are reasons to anticipate that the road to the new constitution is going to be a difficult one with no assurance of success. To begin with, it is unlikely that other parties will accommodate all Kurdish expectations. The BDP, which has

It is clear that the BDP has to be taken as a serious partner in any process to address Turkey’s Kurdish question in the future, especially in the anticipated constitution making.
The success of the BDP with its independent candidates has reinforced its claim to be the spokesman of Kurdish aspirations. Although the AKP has run a strong second in some of these provinces and citizens of Kurdish origin living in other parts of Turkey do not necessarily all sympathize with it, it is clear that the BDP has to be taken as a serious partner in any process to address Turkey’s Kurdish question in the future, especially in the anticipated constitution making.

There is no question that the current constitution written under military rule is a highly detailed document that is not ideal and should therefore be changed.

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Analysis
adopted a maximalist hard line, may choose to use street politics as a tool of persuasion, which may then generate counter-reactions and stymie the process. The MHP, with its conservative, highly nationalistic outlook, on the other hand, is unlikely to go along with producing a more liberal and democratic constitution, more cognizant of the pluralistic nature of Turkish society. In all likelihood, the burden of making a new constitution will fall on the shoulders of the AKP and the CHP. Will they rise to the challenge? Both have expressed willingness to cooperate and compromise. Yet there may be a major difficulty on the way. The CHP understands compromise to mean that its views will be taken into consideration and be incorporated into the final document that emerges. If his approach on earlier occasions is taken as an indicator, the prime minister may feel that compromise is for others to come to his viewpoint after his irresistible efforts of persuasion. If this observation is correct, it does not constitute a good beginning to constitutional reform. The parliament will not meet until October except to extend its confidence to the government. Calm is likely to prevail during the summer.

İlter Turan, Professor, Bilgi University
İlter Turan is currently a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. His previous employment included professorships at Koç University (1993-1998) and Istanbul University (1964-1993), where he also served as the chair of the International Relations Department (19871993), and the director of the Center for the Study of the Balkans and the Middle East (1985-1993). Dr. Turan is the past president of the Turkish Political Science Association and has been a member of the Executive Committee and a vice president of the International Political Science Association (2000-2006). He has served as the program chair of the 21st World Congress of Political Science in Santiago, Chile, July 12-16, 2009. He is board chair of the Health and Education Foundation and serves on the board of several foundations and corporations. He is widely published in English and Turkish on comparative politics, Turkish politics, and foreign policy. His most recent writings have been on the domestic and international politics of water, the Turkish parliament and its members, and Turkish political parties. He is a frequent commentator on Turkish politics on TV and newspapers.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on transatlantic and global issues. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www. gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database. gmfus.org/reaction.

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