Why the election result was a surprise even to the AKP

Why the election result was a surprise even to the AKP

When he said “This was also a surprise for me,” Bilal Erdoğan, the son of President Tayyip Erdoğan was busy celebrating the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) election victory on the night of Nov. 1, waving Turkish and Ottoman flags along Baghdad Avenue, a secular-republican heartland on Istanbul’s Asian side.

His move to Bologna in order to conduct his post-graduate studies had led to some opposition voices asking whether he fled Turkey before the election, prompting the president to call him back in order to quash the rumors.

But within AK Parti circles it was not only Bilal Erdoğan who was surprised at the results. Bülent Arınç, a member of the triumvirate who founded the party in 2011, (together with Erdoğan and former President Abdullah Gül), also said on TV on the evening of Nov. 1 that he was surprised by the sweeping support given to his party. “When the poll results of Adil Gür emerged predicting 47.3 percent for us, I found them too high and rejected them,” Arınç said. The AK Parti ultimately won 49.5 percent.

I spoke to a party official who was a member of the election committee on Nov. 1, before the vote count started. He told me that they expected something “as high as 44,” which could have yielded around 270-280 seats (out of 550, with 276 seats enough to form a single-party government). That is why so many experts were busy calculating the possibilities of a coalition between the AK Parti and other parties. 

Instead, the voter ended up giving the AK Parti 317 seats. If the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had not narrowly exceeded the 10 percent threshold with a margin of 0.8 percent, the AK Parti could have secured a majority to change the constitution as well.

There are a few reasons why the result was such a surprise to almost everyone.

First of all, the polling companies were all wrong. They were unable to detect what was going on in the voters’ minds, especially lacking data from the east and southeast of Turkey, which was hit by clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the security forces after the June 7 election. Telephone interviews in an atmosphere of terror, worsened by the terrible bomb attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in the run-up to the election, was not a very good way to measure voter tendencies.

Secondly, up until the last week or 10 days of the campaign, the shift away from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) toward the AK Parti was not visible. Neither the polling companies, nor the journalists, nor the investment bankers could detect it until it was too late.

Thirdly, very few people expected that some of the Kurdish voters who voted for the AK Parti in the past but opted for the HDP on June 7 would go back after the HDP failed to draw a clear line between its policies and the attacks of the PKK, with which it shares a similar social base.

Fourthly, some AK Parti voters who abstained on June 7 because of they were no longer happy with the party but did not prefer any other, returned to the AK Parti on Nov. 1. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said during the campaign that he “got the message” of the voters and promised to fix what was wrong.

Only the Republican People’s Party (CHP) protected its base from the AK Parti landslide that other parties experienced. This was “not a success,” according to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who will face some tough questions from the delegates at the CHP congress in December. 

It looks like the MHP and the HDP leadership will have an even harder time in their respective conventions, after the crushing result of Nov. 1.