Byzantine tricks in Turkey’s election system

Byzantine tricks in Turkey’s election system

Turkey’s domestic politics are getting stranger with every step the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) take together. Last week, these two partners of the “People’s Coalition” unveiled a proposal to completely change the country’s election system. Not surprisingly, they did not even ask for an outside opinion or for any contribution from legal circles, scholars or opposition parties. It would be fair to call the new system a system for “all-for-me” elections.

Ahead of the executive presidential system referendum on April 16, 2017, AK Party supporters and TV pundits were all cheering for the advantages of a “yes” vote. Many of them said the new system would mean that the president would have to seek compromises to get re-elected and would have to address all parts of society, while there would no longer be any need for coalitions.

Things have not turned out that way. The MHP’s worries about possibly not being able to pass the 10 percent threshold on entering parliament have effectively taken the AK Party hostage. Now, according to the changes proposed, if you are part of an alliance it does not matter if you get 1 percent or 9.9 percent of the vote. You can enter parliament and practically pass the threshold with the help of a bigger party like the AK Party or the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

In the new system, “alliances” will still be shown as separate parties on ballot papers, but if a voter mistakenly stamps both of them they will both count together and the vote will be distributed under the “D’Hondt system.” Sealed ballot papers - which had once been the signature of Turkey’s electoral system - will not need to be sealed anymore. The authorities will be able to move ballot boxes wherever they want in the event of urgent need. The chair of each ballot station (i.e. the classrooms that people go in to vote) will have to be a civil servant chosen by the government. And any citizen will be able to call the police or the gendarmerie to the voting place if they feel there is a need.

Most experts agree that this is a system custom-designed to keep the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) out of parliament. They also suggest that it aims to push the CHP into an alliance with smaller parties like the Saadet Party or the İYİ (Good) Party.

Professor Tanju Tosun and Gülgün Tosun from Ege University recently ran a simulation with the new proposed system. With the same vote distribution as occurred in the November 2015 parliamentary election, the CHP loses 13 seats and the HDP loses one seat to the “People’s Alliance.” Among the cities that lose are İzmir, Mersin, Bolu and Istanbul’s 1st district.

It seems that with all the tricks and traps hidden inside the “alliance” proposal, Turkey is slowly moving toward a non-democratic, banana republic-style system. Even officials and electoral board representatives have no idea how votes are going to be counted - if they are ever going to be counted.

All plans have been designed to provide President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a victory in the first round and for the MHP to survive in parliament under the AK Party umbrella. Apparently everything is fair in love and war, and the AK Party and the MHP may be proving this saying right.

Beyond all these Byzantine tricks, the voter is simply asking: “Why did we change the system if there are all these tricky coalitions and alliances? How will you guarantee that my vote will be counted and recorded fairly?” And there were have it: Perhaps the “alliance” system is simply intended to discourage opposition voters from going to the ballot box in the first place.

Ahu Özyurt, hdn,