Is there no effective opposition in Turkey?
When it comes to criticizing the policies of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government in Turkey, one is likely to hear the much used cliché of “But there is no effective opposition, no alternative” which would probably be followed by the shy complaint of “Look what CHP is doing,” the Republican People’s Party being the main opposition in the Parliament.
One has to admit that the rhetoric is catchy and leaves very little to carry on the conversation outside the boundaries drawn by the AK Parti. When combined with the almost non-stop theme by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan giving – indeed – bad examples about wrongdoings of the CHP in terms of individual or group rights in the young years of the Republic, which was a one-party system until the end of the Second World War, one can easily find himself, or herself pushed into a position where any criticism of the current government could end up with being accused of defending those wrongdoings.
The highly multi-voiced structure of the CHP, acting as an umbrella from nationalists to internationalists, from Kemalists to left social democrats exhibit a fragmented, thus hard to rely on scene and contribute to the impression of “doing nothing but fighting among themselves.”
It reached such a point that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP leader wrote a statement over the weekend and said it was not fair to label his party as doing nothing.
Is that perception right? Is it fair to say the CHP is really not acting as an efficient opposition party? And if so what is the main reason for that?
It is not fair to say that the CHP is not an efficient opposition party regarding Parliamentary politics. The level of opposition the CHP performs, from bringing up their own law proposals, to taking the passed laws to Constitutional Court for correction can be annoying for PM Erdoğan from time to time.
The questions officially asked on the Parliamentary floor, the CHP deputies made it possible for the Turkish public to learn about many realities which were not transparently put, from the number of military personnel in the army, to increasing rates in cancer cases, from mobbing in public offices to the number of court files (some 15 million) on the rise because of unpaid debts of small business owners.
The opposition organizes public rallies and demonstrations in protestation of government policies which can find little coverage in national media, as a matter of general political atmosphere of the country. And in the field of foreign policy the CHP acts quite actively especially in recent times. The CHP delegations to Iraq and Egypt talked to both opposition and government circles there at a time when the Turkish government had difficulties communicating and stood against a government motion last week to send troops to Syria if necessary.
But Parliamentary politics is about seat arithmetic. The current election system with the 10 percent hurdle helps the leading party to win more seats than its actual vote percentage. Whatever the opposition parties do, they cannot break that wall down unless there is an occasional inner discrepancy, like the one in 2003 over the Iraq war motion.
Erdoğan opened the debate over the election hurdle last week (which was not brought into the system by the AK Parti, but the 1980 military coup) and proposed two scenarios other than the existing system. The first is to lift the ban altogether, shifting to a one-member constituency system and the second to lower it down to 5 percent, shifting to smaller-than-today constituencies. Kılıçdaroğlu says he is prepared for all but the current 10 percent but asks why not reducing it to 3 or 5 or lifting it all together by keeping the constituency system as it is for a more fair representation.
The answer is perhaps hidden in the power focused politics in order to not let the opposition parties be represented by the number of MPs in accordance with the votes they receive in the elections and perform a really efficient opposition in the Parliament.
Those who like the rhetoric of “lacking opposition” could give a thought to this unfair situation, too.