Electoral amendments change fair play rules for parties

Electoral amendments change fair play rules for parties

Barçın Yinanç - barcin-yinanc@hdn.com.tr
Electoral amendments change fair play rules for parties

Maintaining a ten-percent threshold while enabling political parties to form alliances is against the constitution’s equality principle, says veteran journalist Taha Akyol. “An electoral system based on securing political advantages has been adopted,” Akyol added.

The new election rules endorsed by parliament go against the constitution’s equality principle, veteran journalist Taha Akyol has said, adding that “the aim is to enter elections not on equal conditions but on a more advantageous position.”

Why have these amendments been made?

Because the system is changing. Therefore they should accord with the new system’s logic, which totally separates the elections of the legislative and executive organs. The president is elected, that is the executive. Then there are parliamentary elections and that’s the legislative. In the old system, parliament was elected and government was formed from parliament.

The government spokespersons said they would secure stability in the executive, adding there would no longer be any need for an electoral threshold. But the new law maintains the 10-percent threshold. This by itself goes against the new system. Therefore it shows that an electoral system based on securing political advantages has been adopted.

Want do you mean by political advantages?

The aim is to enter elections not on equal conditions but on a more advantageous position. The second aim is to have a disciplined majority in parliament beholden to the instructions of the executive.

The decisions of the Constitutional Court stipulate that the first part of the “stability in governance fairness in representation” formula is about the executive. The concept of stability is used for the executive. Now this will happen through presidential elections. The second part: “Fairness in representation” is about parliament. If there is going to be fair representation, you have to lower the ten percent threshold to either zero or near zero, as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) top lawyers have previously said. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the ten-percent threshold to be too high and advised to lower it. But as all political parties are subjected to the 10 percent threshold; the 10 percent threshold was seen tolerable and in conformity with the principle of equality.

Yet in the new system, the 10 percent threshold is not applied to all parties. It is applied to parties that do not enter into alliances. A party that gets one percent of the votes can enter the parliament if it has forged an alliance, while a party which gets 9.9 percent of the votes cannot.

This is against the constitution’s equality principle and against fairness in representation. The Constitutional Court have rulings stipulating that laws specifically in favor of a political party or a specific segment should be cancelled.

Does it matter? After all, parliament’s authority is reduced in the presidential system.

Checks and balances are important in democracies. In our case, the president is given powers that are unseen in any democratic presidential system. Who will provide the checks and balances against the president’s power? Parliament.

 But does parliament have the power to do so?

No. In order for parliament to fulfill its mission of checks and balances, it has to have groups willing to counterbalance the president’s authority. That is why this [electoral] system aims at weakening the opposition, by reducing the number of parliamentarians that the opposition will win in an election and thus making it difficult for parliament to do the checks and balances.

Even if there were strong groups in parliament willing to check the president’s powers, does parliament have the mechanisms to do so?

It does not have too many mechanisms. The use of those mechanisms is tied to very difficult conditions. Still, if the parliament is strong, then this will force the government to at least negotiate with the opposition the laws it wants to pass.

The government bloc says we have forged alliances, so should the others.

The AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are ideologically close to each other. But what party can today forge an alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)? In fact this is what the AKP-MHP alliance wants. They want to label all other parties who form an alliance with the HDP as the extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This is not politically fair. In addition democracies cannot force people to form alliances. The electoral system set the rules of the game. You cannot have one set of rules for the penalty in front of your goal and another set of rules in front of the goal of your opponent. That does not make it a fair game. This is the new system. Rules for the governing alliance and the opposition are different. Because the opposition is divided and cannot make alliances, the system will work to their disadvantage.

What are the other controversial points?

In all democratic presidential systems, presidential elections and parliamentary elections take place on different days, so they do not affect each other. In our case, both will take place on the same day, which means that the big campaign for the presidential elections will affect the parliamentary elections. The votes cast for both will be put on the same envelop. This shows that the system is designed so that a powerful name should control both the executive and the legislative.

Ballots that are not stamped by election officials will also be considered valid. That has also been criticized.

Although I am critical, I don’t see this practice as especially grave. An additional security wave has been dismissed. That should not have happened. Why did they do so? They did not even provide a rational explanation. My guess is that in rural places, some election officials with a lower education level might forget or neglect to stamp the ballots, as most of the votes in the rural parts go to the government. I assume this amendment was made in order to prevent the cancellation of these votes.

But what I find to be very grave is that the people of the executive organ will become the head of ballot boxes for the elections of the legislative organ. In the old system, the head of the balloting committee was selected from among the representatives of the political parties. The civil servants will be the head of the balloting committee. But the civil servants are under the instruction of the executive. They depend on the appreciation and monitoring of the minister. Everyone knows how politicized the administrations in Turkey are. Even the head of a primary school can get replaced for political reasons. I am not sure what a civil servant can do as the head of the balloting committee in order to please the government. Maybe he or she could be honest, but this change raise suspicions, whereas elections need to be free from all suspicions.

The police will be able to enter voting stations more easily upon the request of citizens, a right that used to belong solely to the balloting committee.

I don’t see this as especially grave either. But there has been no case in the past where an election in a specific place was canceled because security forces were late in intervening. So why did they feel the need to change it? When there is no clear answer to this question that raises doubts.

The opposition took these changes to the Constitutional Court. What do you expect?

I have written in my column that these changes were against the constitution according to the ECHR and the Constitutional Court’s previous decisions.

But I cannot foresee how the Court will decide. The Constitutional Court is unpredictable. Predictability is one of the essential characteristics of a state with the rule of law.

WHO IS TAHA AKYOL?

Electoral amendments change fair play rules for partiesA graduate of Istanbul University’s law faculty, Akyol started his professional career as a lawyer in the Eastern city of Yozgat. After moving to Ankara he began writing columns for daily Hergün.

He was arrested during the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, as he was one of the high level members of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) at the time. He was held in Ankara’s notorious Mamak prison, but was acquitted during the trial.

He wrote columns for 20 years for daily Milliyet and currently he is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, also hosting a T.V. program on CNN Turk. Akyol is the author of several books, including “Violence in Politics,” “Science and Delusion,” “Sects and States in the Ottoman Empire and Iran,” “But Which Atatürk” and “Atatürk’s Law of Revolution.” His latest book callled “Unknown Lausanne,” was published in 2014.

Taha Akyol, Barçın Yinanç, electoral law, alliance, Turkey