June 7 could be Erdoğan’s first defeat

June 7 could be Erdoğan’s first defeat

There is only one month left to the June 7 parliamentary elections in Turkey. This election will probably be the most critical one since the first free multiparty elections in Turkey in 1950, because President Tayyip Erdoğan has shifted its focus away from electing a new parliament and government to introducing a strong presidential system to replace the parliamentary system through a constitution change.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been carrying out the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) election campaign. A victory for the AKP of a simple majority of 276 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Parliament may not be enough to pass Erdoğan’s strong presidency-based constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority (367 seats). A three-fifths (330 seats) majority would be enough to take the constitutional change to a referendum.

Erdoğan does not want to risk getting below 330 seats for two main reasons:

1- He believes that this is his chance to achieve a strong-presidency with executive power and fewer checks and balances.

2- If he cannot achieve this goal, it could mark the first defeat in his political life since he co-established the AK Parti in 2000.

For these two reasons, Erdoğan is carrying out a parallel campaign with that of Prime Minister Davutoğlu, in order to support the AK Parti. This is despite the clear statement in the constitution that the president must remain non-partisan. 

His campaign is not strictly in the form of the AK Parti election campaign. Instead it is taking the form of “opening ceremonies” for various facilities in cities across the country, or “gatherings” with professional groups. During the speeches he makes in those ceremonies, he attacks the opposition parties even more harshly than Davutoğlu does, telling the people not to believe the opposition’s promises. He never forgets to add that although “there is a party in his heart” he cannot say so. He says that of course he is taking sides: He is “siding with the people.” This is one of the most populist clichés in Turkish politics.

The opposition parties accuse Erdoğan of violating the constitution and exploiting citizens’ tax money - using presidential funds and facilities such as planes, helicopters, buses, limousines and the presidential palace - for AK Parti purposes. Accusing the Supreme Election Board (YSK) of becoming “identical to Erdoğan,” Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli has vowed to turn the new palace that Erdoğan built at a cost of more than $1.1 billion into a museum. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has vowed that if they get into parliament they will do everything possible to conduct the necessary parliamentary audits in order to make Erdoğan pay back every penny that he has spent for the AK Parti’s election campaign. 

However, Erdoğan does not seem to be too affected by these criticisms. Thinking that it could be “now or never,” with or without the constitution, he is stepping up his campaign with an increasingly Islamic tone every other day in order to avoid his first ever political defeat on June 7.