Surprises from Turkish parties provide hint for elections

Surprises from Turkish parties provide hint for elections

Before coming to surprises, let’s first lay out some broad figures: 

The Turkish Parliament has 550 seats. In the June 7 election, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its single party majority by scoring just 258 seats despite President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unconstitutional support for its campaign.

Th AKP lost its majority mainly because the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish issue, managed to cross the national election threshold and grab 80 seats, mostly from the AKP.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) took 131 and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won 80 seats

The whole arithmetic led to a political deadlock after the June 7 polls as the four parties failed to agree on a coalition government, paving the way for the upcoming re-election.

All parties submitted their MP candidate lists on Sept. 18 and campaigning will start this week.

As the party that suffered most from the outcome of the June 7 election, the AKP made the greatest number of changes to its list, replacing 53 of its 258 MPs.

The CHP re-nominated 128 of its 131 MPs, kicking out just three from its list. However, in its list, the CHP changed the places of MPs in 34 provinces where it had expected to perform better.

The HDP also removed three, while the MHP removed eight MPs from its lists.

These are just numbers, and we should look at the people behind them to get an idea if these changes, particularly the most surprising ones, can make a dramatic difference.

1) The AKP: Back to basics

- The AKP overhauled its three-term limit on deputies, allowing 24 senior figures to be nominated once again. Ali Babacan, often described as Turkey’s economy tsar, is the biggest surprise.

- The AKP’s most significant reshuffling of candidates is in the southeast and east, where it is engaging in a strategic competition with the HDP. Beşir Atalay, an AKP heavyweight whose constituency was originally in Central Anatolia, has now moved to the eastern province of Van. Similar moves in Diyarbakır and Şanlıurfa are other examples of the trend.

- As with the HDP in southeast, the AKP is engaged in a campaign against the MHP in Central Anatolia to gain back the votes it lost in the region. A symbolic example is the AKP’s not-so-surprising nomination of Tuğrul Türkeş, the son of the MHP’s founder, who was kicked out of the MHP after breaking party lines by accepting an AKP offer of a ministerial seat in the interim government after June 7.

- Apparently, the AKP list also seeks to mobilize various tribes and Islamic sects, especially in the countryside to score better against the HDP and the MHP, depending on the province.

- The AKP kicked out some of its “embarrassing” MPs, including Abdurrahim Boynukalın, who played a key role in violent attacks and threats targeting daily Hürriyet headquarters. Another cringeworthy name, singer Uğur Işılak, was also removed from the list.

- Possibly as part of its “back to basics” approach, the AKP also gave no credence to renegade outsiders who could have been nominated for Turkey’s largest party. İhsan Özkes, an Erdoğan-critic-turned-Erdoğan-fan who recently resigned from the CHP, is just one example. 

2) The CHP: Focus sways from AKP to HDP 

- Umut Oran, an up-and-coming CHP figure whose name was cleared by the judiciary following a pro-AKP media conspiracy targeting him, has not been nominated again. Considering his successes in revealing and publicizing the AKP’s failures, it’s a surprise. 

- The reason could be chalked up to the CHP’s decision to stick to its proactive campaign focusing on its own pledges and projects, instead of a reactive one that polarizingly targets AKP figures and policies. So the Oran decision may have a larger meaning for the CHP.

- The HDP’s crossing of the 10-percent threshold empowered the CHP in parliament. But this position could be even stronger if the HDP just barely crosses the threshold, instead of reaching as high as 13 percent. It could be why some of the most important changes on the CHP list was the re-positioning of candidates in constituencies with more Alevi voters that the HDP scored better in on June 7.

3) HDP: Turkey-ification continues with discipline

- While retaining most candidates in its list for the southeast, the HDP’s biggest surprise came with the nomination of Mustafa Sarısülük, the elder brother of Ethem Sarısülük, a protester who was shot dead by police during the Gezi Park protests in Ankara in 2013. The nomination may be proof that the HDP’s goal to become a "party of all of Turkey” is continuing.

- However, the HDP also made another surprise by retaining the harsh party discipline of the kind seen in most left-wing or organizations focused on the Kurdish issue in Turkey: The elimination of Levent Tüzel, a principled MP who turned down an AKP offer of a seat in the interim government despite the HDP’s decision to accept it.

4) The MHP: The one-man party

- If there is another party whose list was shaped by a single man as much as Erdoğan did with the AKP list, then it is the MHP. Devlet Bahçeli continued to eliminate any party member whose name may eclipse his. Meral Akşener, a female MP who has been in the parliament for the past 28 years, was Bahçeli’s latest victim, surprising most observers.

But will we be surprised on Nov 1?

Research firms have yet to release a poll conducted after the submission of party lists, but one key factor might be indicative: In essence, all parties focused on winning in a limited number of constituencies they lost by a nose. None of them has been bold enough to take big risks for big gains.

The AKP seeks a return to the good old days, but its MP selection is not a radical shift from its list that partly failed on June 7.

The CHP and the HDP are now focusing on each other more, if timidly

And thanks to its leader, the MHP apparently cares more about intra-party balances, which may bring some stability but not more votes.

As such, in spite of all these surprises, it seems unlikely that the Nov. 1 elections will produce a dramatically different parliament under normal circumstances.

Under normal circumstances” is the key phrase here.

In Western democracies, even Turkey’s election threshold is not “normal,” let alone the debates to ban political parties or restrict voting in certain parts of the country.