Is the AKP finally losing?
Will the June 7 elections be the first electoral defeat of the tall, bald and bold man yelling at everyone? Many political strategists and pollsters agree that even if the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might still get over 40 percent of the vote, there will be a considerable decline in support for it compared to the over 50 percent that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received in the presidential election last year, or the almost 50 percent that the AKP won in the last parliamentary elections.
But will an eight or nine-point decline in the AKP vote be enough to cause a change of government? Did not the AKP come to power with a “landslide” 34 percent of the vote in 2002? Was not 34 percent enough for it to rule alone in its first term? The distribution of the votes, the performance of other parties, and the number of parties successfully overcoming the anti-democratic 10 percent electoral threshold, are all factors that determine the outcome of the elections. Of course, equally important will be the level of participation.
In 2002, key parties remained below the 10 percent threshold and only 53 percent of the votes cast in the election were reflected in parliament. The AKP therefore won 365 seats with only 34.3 percent of the vote, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) won 178 seats with only 19.4 percent of the vote.
In the 2007 elections, the AKP increased its electoral support to 46.6 percent, but its parliamentary strength decreased to 341 seats, because this time three parties and a group of independents (mostly Kurds) made it into parliament, overcoming the national or local thresholds. In 2007, the CHP won a lower (112 seat) parliamentary presence with a higher 20.9 percent of the vote. The third party to enter parliament was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 14.3 percent of the vote and 71 seats. A record number of 26 independent deputies were also elected, at 5.2 percent of the vote. As a result, 87 percent of the votes cast were reflected in parliament.
The 2011 elections were not much different. The AKP won 49.8 percent of the vote and produced 327 seats, 14 fewer than its 2007 strength. The CHP with 26 percent of the vote secured 135 deputies, 23 seats more than it won in 2011. The MHP received 13.1 percent of the vote, producing 53 deputies, 19 seats fewer than its 2011 strength. Independents won a record 35 seats with 6.7 percent of the vote. In sum, 95.6 percent of the votes cast were reflected in parliament.
As can be seen in the figures, even though the AKP has increased its percentage of votes in every election since 2002, the scale of its parliamentary presence has consistently decreased because of the performance of other parties and independents.
Depending on one’s perspective, there are more than enough reasons for the AKP to either put in a very strong performance or badly fail in the upcoming June 7 elections. Arrogance, authoritarianism, the grotesque new palace, extravagancy, an economy going astray, the rapid depreciation of the lira against foreign currencies, the increasing cost of living, and unemployment hitting new heights (particularly among the young) are just some of the negative factors.
Even though President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is officially required to be above parties, he is actively involved in the AKP’s election campaign. Indeed, he might even be holding more election rallies than Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Is this compatible with the “above politics” status of the presidency? Obviously not, but the Constitutional Court did not agree. Still, the president’s over-involvement in active party politics and his demand from the nation to “give 400 seats,” so that Turkey can be carried to a fully-fledged super-presidential system, might backfire in the election booth.
The leader of the 1980 coup, Kenan Evren, who passed away this weekend, did almost the same as Erdoğan for the MHP in the 1983 elections. However, his involvement in the campaign backfired and brought the late Turgut Özal and his Motherland Party to government. We shall all see together what happens this time.
On the other hand, the demand for continued political-economic stability, the fear of coalition governments, the invisibility of a credible political alternative, and the macho-worshipping social genes are helping out Erdoğan and the AKP.
Will the AKP finally lose in this election? As was seen in Britain last week, public opinion polls often err incredibly. Cross your fingers.