The 10 percent Litmus test for Turkish democracy

The 10 percent Litmus test for Turkish democracy

The 10 percent election threshold in the Turkish election system has been a major block in front of fair representation of political parties since the military coup in 1980. Justifying their act by the inability of fragile coalitions to govern, the soldiers imposed that article in the Election Law in parallel with the referendum for the constitution in 1982.

Since then, no party in Turkey could form a group in the parliament without exceeding the 10 percent of the national vote count. Since then, all political parties in Turkey have been complaining and promising to lower the threshold when they come to power and none of them have kept their promises, but instead enjoyed the unfair domination when they took the power; the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is not an exception.

It is not only the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party which does want to see this threshold be taken down. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for example, submitted a number of proposals to the Parliament over the years, only to be blocked by the AK Parti votes; the CHP wants it to be lowered to 5-7 percent.

The BDP is in the Parliament as a group, not because it managed to get 10 percent of the votes (slightly more than 6) but they managed to get their candidates elected as independent deputies in (mostly) predominantly Kurdish populated east and southeast provinces and then joined the BDP again once they took the oath to become a Member of Parliament. So the 10 percent threshold which was once believed to be to keep the Islamic and Kurdish nationalist parties away from the parliament failed in its mission once again.

The BDP wants the threshold to be either 3 percent, like in some examples in Europe; the practices in Europe being around 0-5 percents. That is actually one of the four core demands of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from the Turkish government in the dialogue process in between initiated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in late 2012 in order to put a political end to PKK’s three-decade-long armed campaign which claimed the lives of around 40,000 so far. The threshold used to be one of the key items in the talks with the PKK in the former – failed – round of talks in 2009-2010, too.

Erdoğan had a meeting on June 26 with the group of academics, writers and popular figures of stage arts whom he called ”Wise Persons,” to have their reports following a nearly two months long practice during which they took the pulse of the Turkish public opinion regarding the “process.” The meeting was believed to mark the end of what is known as “Phase I,” which would mean the withdrawal of the PKK militants in Turkey to their bases in Iraq and the beginning of “Phase II,” during which the government would take steps in the Parliament for a series of legal amendments.

Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the BDP had told reporters that the Phase II should start immediately since the pull-back of militants is almost over. But Erdoğan reportedly said in the meeting that only 15 percent of the militants so far have left Turkish territory, so that phase was not over yet. He also reportedly said that he was cool to reducing the election threshold from 10 percent.

This is not fair for Turkish democracy which deserves the same quality as those in Europe; this is not a demand only by the PKK, but across the layers of Turkish society who want fairer representation. With or without a political settlement with the PKK, Erdoğan should take the initiative to reduce that threshold from 10 percent, which has turned into a Litmus test for being a true democrat in Turkey.