The latest outlook on Turkish polls
Turkey’s June 7 general election would have been quite boring if the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had not set itself the challenge of passing the 10 percent national threshold, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) supports for the sake of stability.
The HDP could have opted to do the same as its predecessor parties and enter the election as independent candidates to guarantee representation, reuniting in parliament after the vote. But because President Tayyip Erdoğan wanted to try his chance for a shift from the current parliamentary system to a strong presidential one by maximizing the AK Parti’s vote share, the HDP also wanted to maximize its seats in parliament. If it managed to pass the unfair 10 percent threshold, the HDP thought, its representation at parliament would double, thus increasing its bargaining power in talks with the government in pursuit of a political settlement to the Kurdish question.
When Erdoğan put aside the constitutionally non-partisan role of the president and waded into the AK Parti election with his own targets, he also derailed the election from its original course. Once he took this decision, the election became not only about resetting the parliament and forming a new government, but also about the AK Parti’s pursuit of a majority (at least 330 out of 550 seats) in order to take a new constitution to a referendum.
That kind of majority could be achieved in a three-party parliament, if the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) do not increase their votes. But if the HDP crosses the threshold, because of the calculation system, it would become practically impossible for the AKP to reach 330 seats.
That’s why, after a certain point, the AK Parti started to focus more and more on efforts to keep the HDP under the 10 percent threshold, which is a remnant of the military rule in the early 1980s.
This dilemma has brought particular excitement to this election. Another factor of excitement emerged around the same time. The social democratic main opposition CHP put together an election program based on economic pledges and pragmatic promises to voters, rather than engaging in endless ideological debates with the AK Parti (which Erdoğan excels in). Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his ministers found themselves in a situation of having to tell voters that there was no money to raise the minimum wage, or retirement pensions, or subsidies to farmers, at a time when people were observing the president’s new 1,150-room muscle-flexing palace and when Turkey’s top religious was being given a luxurious limousine.
On the other hand, Erdoğan has a particular charm and appeal for many voters, endorsed by the religious factor that he knows how to use well. He has appeared in election rallies with a copy of the holy Quran in his hand, saying that Muslims should vote for the AK Parti - in a country where officially 99 percent of the population is considered Muslim.
The markets have already bought the idea of seeing another AK Parti government on June 8, but not one as powerful as before due to the stronger presence of opposition parties in parliament - including the HDP.
That could mean farewell to Erdoğan’s target of a strong presidential system, but we should note that he is not the kind of person to give in easily.