Erdoğan and his 10 percent
The Turkish government is working on a set of legal measures as a part of the initiative by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to pursue peace with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in order to resolve the painful Kurdish issue without further bloodshed. The outline of the “democratization package,” as labelled by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, was discussed in a meeting chaired by Erdoğan on July 23 in Ankara, and partly revealed to the media during a fast-breaking dinner the same evening.
The “package” apparently contains more freedoms on Kurdish education, the use of Kurdish in public services, shifting more power from the central government to local administrations, and restructuring the election system enabling the government to divide the election regions into segments that can send five deputies at most to Parliament.
It is not clear whether such fragmentation of constituencies will help the strengthening of local administrations and smaller parties who are seeking more representation, or instead endorse the power of the governing party, which is currently the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). Actually, the Kurdish focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Parliament, which shares the same grassroots as the PKK, do want a lowering of the 10 percent election hurdle for a better representation of all votes used. That has been one of the four main conditions by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned for life leader of the PKK, for a settlement with the government. It’s not only wanted by the BDP. Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), despite being an address for “second choice” votes because of the high hurdle, wants it to be lowered as well. A recent CHP proposal to get it down to 3 percent (as in the case of many European countries) was turned down by AK Parti votes in Parliament.
However, when asked by reporters, Arınç reiterated the AK Parti position that they had no plans to lower the 10 percent election hurdle. The hurdle was brought into the system following the military coup in 1980 and implanted into election law in 1983 with the justification of "maintaining political stability," at the expense of “fair representation.” The aim of the generals at the time was to not allow Kurds and Islamists to be able to get into Parliament with their own parties; when looking at Turkey's political landscape now, one wonders what kind of NATO strategists they were.
The AK Parti people do not talk much about the issue and underline the need for political stability, especially for the economy. There could be a background for that. If for example the 10 percent hurdle were to be dropped to 3 percent or 5 percent as the worst example in European Union implementations, then the conservative, right wing voters who shift to AK Parti instead of, for example, the Islamist Saadet Partisi (which has a 2 percent-strong vote), it might cost very dear support for Erdoğan. Even a 7 percent hurdle might cause Kurdish conservative voters to be attracted by the BDP, which has 6 percent-strong support in the polls.
It is ironic that all Turkish parties have complained about the 10 percent block and promised the voters that they would change it immediately if they take power, before forgetting their promises and defending the absurd system, (the highest in greater Europe, together with Russia, which has 5 percent). Erdoğan’s AK Parti has proven that it is no different from all the others in this sense.