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Turkey - General Elections

Is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party mowing towards victory in Turkey?

Is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party mowing towards victory in Turkey?

16/05/2011 - Analysis

52,758,907 Turks (of whom 2,568,977 living abroad) are being called to voted on 12th June to renew the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly, the only Chamber in Parliament. 7,492 people in all from 15 political parties are standing in the election – 203 are independent candidates. The electoral law approved in 2010 modified Turkish legislation so that it now falls more in line with European standards. The eligibility threshold has been reduced by five years and now lies at 25. The law makes it obligatory to renew electoral equipment: ballot boxes will now be made of transparent plastic and not wood, envelopes will have a new format, voting booths will be made so that the person inside cannot be seen. It is obligatory to vote in Turkey.
The Supreme Election Council chaired by Ali Em rejected the request for Turks living abroad to be allowed to vote in their country of residence, a decision that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AKP) criticised sharply. "It is a slap in the face for the voting rights of our citizens," he stressed. 1.3 million Turks live in Germany, 1.2 million in France and Belgium. Around 10% of them are travelling to Turkey to vote.
As stipulated by article 114 of the Constitution Justice Minister, Sadullah Ergin, Interior Minister Besir Atalay and Transport Minister Binali Yildirim resigned from their posts some weeks before the election so that this could take place in a neutral situation.

After 9 years in power what has the AKP achieved?

From a political point of view Turkey is a socially and regionally divided country. This can be seen every time there is an election and was evident for example during the referendum on the Constitution on 12th September 2010.
Regionally the country's south and west coasts are the strongholds of the main opposition party, the People's Republican Party (CHP). A majority in these regions rejected the constitutional reform. The CHP attracts the urban middle classes in the biggest towns such as Ankara and Istanbul who see the AKP as a threat to their Western lifestyle. These voters criticise Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarianism whom they often accuse of being involved in affairs of corruption.
The AKP dominates Central Anatolia, a traditionally conservative, religious region which in part has turned away from the National Action Party. The AKP is well established amongst the rural middle classes and amongst those living in average sized towns; however the AKP absolutely has to recover the support of the electorates in the major towns. Finally the AKP has planned specific action for young voters: two million first time voters will go to ballot on 12th June next.

The economic card is the AKP's best asset: the country's GNP has increased by 31% (230 Turkish pounds (102 billion €) nine years ago, 730 billion – 324 billion € at present), there has been a rise in income per capita up from 3000 to 10,000$ in 9 years, the GDP grew by 8.9% last year and by 7% on average between 2003 and 2007), investments tripled over the same period (from 59 billion turkish pounds – 26 billion € in 2002 to 161 billion in 2009 – 71.5 billion € - in spite of the global economic crisis), inflation decreased by 30% down to 6.4% and the national debt has been reduced (down from 23.5% to 5.5% according to the IMF). Unemployment had risen to above 14% of the working population in 2009 after the crisis but it is now down to around 11%.
At the end of April Husnu Ozyegin, Turkey's second richest man said he was pleased with his country's economic success and notably with the fact that the budgetary deficit and inflation were under control.
The AKP can also be proud of having improved Ankara's position in the international arena as seen recently during the revolutions in the Arab countries. A successful example of the merger between democracy and Islam, Turkey has often been quoted as a model for its democracy and its economic success. "To be called a model is an exaggeration, an example maybe," declared President Abdullah Gül on 3rd March last in Egypt.

According to the party's figures one voter in ten ie 5,165,000 people are AKP members. Several occupy key positions in the civil service and institutions where they have gradually replaced the traditional Kemalist elite. Indeed the AKP has a representative in every suburb; its leaders are increasing its contacts with the population, communicating on figures which reveal the successes of 9 years in office: the opening of 3,696 clinics, the building of 426, 483 council houses, the connection of 27,578 villages to the drinking water network etc...

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes to win a new term in office to continue the work started on the Constitution (a new Fundamental law is being written at the moment). He wants to pursue the democratization of his country where he would like to establish a presidential regime of which some of the population are afraid because they fear Turkey will slip into authoritarianism.
On 30th March 2009 the AKP won the local elections with 38.8% of the vote – it took 45 main towns in the provinces and 447 districts. The CHP won 23.1% of the vote, 13 major towns and 170 districts; the National Action Party won 16.1% of the vote (10 major towns and 129 districts). Although the AKP came out far ahead of its rivals its advance has now come to a halt

On 12th June next 5,599 AKP candidates will be standing in the general elections. The party has held primary elections in 29 provinces. Half of the MPs (146 out of 333) will not be standing for re-election, since Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to give new or younger candidates an opportunity. Several ministers will be standing in key constituencies on the Mediterranean coast where the AKP usually records its lowest results. The head of government hopes to win 42% of the vote.

Does the opposition have a chance?

The main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, is firmly established on the western side of the country and notably on the coast. Under the leadership of Deniz Baykal the CHP moved away from its social-democratic origins in order to refocus its position. The autocratic style of its former leader divided the party and alienated the more liberal members some of whom quit the movement. On 22nd May 2010 Kemal Kilicdaroglu replaced Deniz Baykal as the CHP leader. The new head, who leans more to the left than his predecessor, has a different approach saying for example that he supports the wearing of the veil, that he favours dialogue with Abdullah Ocalan (leader of the Kurdish Workers' Party PKK, who is at present serving a life sentence for terrorist activities), and even a general amnesty for PKK militants who accept to lay down their arms. Kemal Kilicdaroglu has also started to renew his party's image by introducing new personalities. He has modified its nationalist, secular agenda to refocus the party on new issues in an attempt to reach out to the Turkish population.
Indeed the CHP has to separate social conservatism and religiosity and update its liberal, pro-Western views. If it succeeds in forging a new image and if it comes to embody change then it may pose a threat to the AKP and reach the centre of the country to assert itself as a real alternative force.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who launched a lively campaign, says he will resign if the CHP fails in these general elections. The CHP will be putting 435 people forward. More than two thirds of the outgoing MPs (78 out of 112) have been taken off the lists.

On 2nd May last the police carried out searches and arrested about 40 people on suspicion of corruption in towns that are managed by the opposition parties, notably Izmir and Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea. "This operation is mainly an attempt to influence the upcoming general elections. It looks like the policy of oppression and intimidation that has been ongoing in Turkey for some time" declared the CHP's Vice-President, Alaattin Yuksel.

Turkey's third party, the National Action Party (MHP) which is ultra-nationalist and lies on the far right was the dominant party in the centre of the country for a long time before seeing its electorate desert to the benefit of the AKP. It is threatened by the rejuvenation of the CHP. MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli therefore chose to appoint several moderate candidates in order to retain his electorate and to attract some new ones.

The Kurdish "Problem"

The Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP) is the main Kurd party in Turkey. Created in 2008 it is led by Selahattin Demirtas. It replaced the Democratic Society Party (DTP) led by Ahmet Türk as the main political representative of the Kurdish community in Turkey that comprises 15 million people ie 20% of the country's total population. The DTP was dissolved on 12th December 2009 after the Constitutional Court banned it "for activities that threatened the indivisible unity of the State, the country and the nation and for having links with the Kurdish Workers' Party." Since 1984 it has been fighting for the creation of a Kurdish State that would lie across the north of Iraq and the south of Turkey. It declared a unilateral cease-fire on August 2010 but in February last it threatened to defer this saying that it wanted to defend itself more effectively against the security forces. Fights between the PKK and the Turkish security forces have led to around 40,000 deaths in all in Turkey.

The Party for Peace and Democracy stands as an ethnic movement that defends the claims of the Kurdish community, notably it demands greater autonomy of its members, the freedom of representation and the right to speak Kurdish. In December 2002 when it came to power the AKP lifted the state of emergency that had been in place for the last fifteen years, it created a Kurdish TV channel, gave permission for private Kurdish language lessons and Kurdish study departments in some universities. A few years ago Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first Turkish leader to acknowledge that the State had "made mistakes" during its previous negotiations with the Kurds. Recently he said that there was no longer a Kurdish problem in Turkey.

At the end of April the Supreme Elections Council announced its decision to ban 12 candidates from standing on 12th June next. Amongst these were 7 members of the Party for Peace and Democracy which led to a number of demonstrations in the Kurdish areas of the country. One demonstrator was killed and several others injured by the police forces during a rally in Bismil (in the province of Diyarbakir).

"It is a serious blow to democracy which is already weak," criticised Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the Party for Peace and Democracy. "The eviction of the Kurdish representatives might lead to a boycott of the general elections," he added. The declaration of ineligibility was condemned by the leader of the Grand National Assembly, Mehmet Ali Sahin (AKP) who declared "This decision weakens parliament's mission."
Amongst the banned candidates are two outgoing MPs Sabahat Tuncel and Gultan Kisanak and also Leyla Zana, elected MP in 1991, arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison (1994-2004) "for collusion with the Kurdish rebellion" after she had tried to deliver her oath to Parliament in Kurdish. She was about to make a come-back on the Assembly's benches.

The Supreme Election Council finally revised its decision and allowed 8 of the 12 candidates to run, 6 of whom were from the group of seven independents in the Kurdish community. The Party for Peace and Democracy, which is putting forward 66 candidates in all hopes to see 35 of them elected as MPs.

On 30th April the police arrested 70 people in several of the country's cities (Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Mersin, Van, Mus, Isparta, Batman, Mardin, Siirt, Adiyaman and in the capital Ankara) who they suspect of having links with the self-defence units (OSB), structures that were created by the PKK which are said to take direct orders from Abdullah Ocalan. According to the secret services the units' members had been in training for three months in camps run by the banned party in the north of Iraq. The authorities believe that the 70 people under arrest represent a danger since they might cause trouble during the electoral campaign.

On 6th May the Kurdish rebels claimed to be the authors of a fatal attack on an AKP road convoy in Kastamonu (north) where the Prime Minister had just delivered a speech. A policeman was killed and another injured. "This ambush was undertaken as revenge for the terror the police spread amongst the Kurdish people," declared the Workers' Party of Kurdistan. "Those who did this are terrorists. Those who cannot solve problems by elections think they can do so this way," said the head of government. Finally Abdullah Ocalan, via his lawyers, has threatened the powers in office with "war" if they refuse to negotiate after the general elections. "Either a serious negotiation process will start after 12th June or it will be the start of a major war," he declared.

"A boycott of the elections by the Party for Peace and Democracy would be a setback for Recep Tayyip Erdogan," stresses M. Birand, an analyst on TV channel Kanal D. "The legitimacy of the elections would be threatened and the Prime Minister would be very embarrassed because he wants to show that these elections are democratic and that everyone is taking part. He hopes to take votes from the Republican People's Party and so he is undertaking a nationalist party and is attacking the Kurds, accused of threatening national unity. As for the pro-Kurd party it is showing its strength and is demonstrating that it is defending its community," he added.
In Turkey there is a consensus on the fact that the Kurdish problem cannot be settled by force.

The Turkish Political System

Since the constitutional referendum on 21st October 2007 in 81 provinces the Grand National Assembly, the only Chamber in Parliament, has comprised 550 members elected every four years by a proportional voting system. The age required to stand is 25; the candidate must also have a minimum level of primary education. The publication of the last census led to a redistribution of the parliamentary seats. Istanbul thereby gained 15 seats, the capital Ankara 3 and Izmir 2.

In order to be represented in Parliament all political parties must put candidates forward in at least half of the country's provinces and win a minimum of 10% of the votes cast nationally. This particularly high threshold is very damaging to the Kurdish parties whose electorate mainly lives in the east of Turkey. Since 2007 the latter have managed to navigate around this rule by putting forward independent candidates. In January 2007 the European Court of Human Rights advised that the threshold be brought below 10% and for discussions to be launched between political parties on this issue.
Finally the Turkish Prime Minister must be a member of Parliament

At present three political parties are represented in the Grand National Assembly:

- the Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan created in 2001 rose from the ashes of the banned Prosperity Party (Refah). In office since 2002 it has 363 seats;
- the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition and oldest political party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1919. Lying on the centre-left and led since 22nd May 2010 by Kemal Kilicdaroglu – it has 178 MPs;
- the National Action Party (MHP), an ultra-nationalist party created in 1969 and led by Develt Bahceli, it has 71 seats.
26 independent MPs also have seat in Parliament 20 of whom represent the Kurdish community.

Fifty women sit in the Grand National Assembly ie 9.1% of all of its members, which places Turkey 101st in the world ranking (173 countries in all) by the Interparliamentary Union. In all 257 women are standing in the general election on 12th June: 109 for the CHP, 78 for the AKP, 57 for the National Action Party and the 13 for the Party for Peace and Democracy.

All of the polls forecast the AKP as the winner of the general elections. According to the Genar Institute it is due to win 41.7% of the vote and is due to take the lead over the Republican People's Party (25.2%) and the National Action Party 11.9%.

Source : Internet Election Site in Turkey
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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