What to expect in the upcoming elections

What to expect in the upcoming elections

On Nov. 1, Turks (and Kurds and others who happen to be Turkish citizens) will go to the ballots again. Naturally, everybody is curious about what will happen, and what will really have changed since June 7. At that time, no party was able to win a parliamentary majority, and in the following weeks, the country was unable to form a coalition government. Will things change now? Will we have a single-party government with a parliamentary majority or again a period of coalition talks?

For sure, the biggest party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is hoping to achieve a parliamentary majority this time. That is, in fact, the very reason why we are having these snap elections. Most people in the AKP, including their supreme leader, President Tayyip Erdoğan, felt confident, or at least hopeful, that renewed elections would bring the party a victory. Now they will see, as will we all, whether they were right. 

What are the polls indicating in that regard? Well, there are several polling companies in Turkey, some with known biases. One among them that I find trustworthy is Metropoll. Its president, Özer Sencar, spoke to journalist Ruşen Çakır the other day and shared some interesting insights. (The interview was on Periscope, one of the new blessings of social media where you literally have your own TV station. It is becoming a good platform for Turkish journalists who have been pushed off of TV by the political powers that be. Luckily, technology is often one step ahead of the reach of authoritarianism.)

In the interview, Mr. Sencar said there had actually been no big shifts in voting patterns since July. Most people will vote for the exact same party they voted for four months ago. In fact, many things have worsened in the last four months. But every party has its own explanatory filter, and through these filters, many voters perceive the existing troubles. Why did the Turkish Lira go down dramatically, for example, and why did terrorism rapidly escalate? One explanatory filter says that this is happening because of the wrong policies of the AKP government in power. But the other explanatory filter says that this is all happening because the AKP does not exercise full power.

In other words, do not expect a big change in voting blocs on Nov. 1. But Mr. Sencar adds something else. He argues that on July 7, some potential voters of the AKP did not go to the ballots with the intention of “punishing” or at least “warning” the AKP. They did not want the AKP to lose power, but they wanted to it to back off from its latter-day arrogance and corruption. But they were surprised to see the party, which they still prefer to all other options, lose its parliamentary majority. For they, like many voters, are scared of the very word “coalition,” which reminds them of the turbulent, unstable and incompetent governments of the 1990s.   

Mr. Sencar argues that most of these half-hearted AKP voters will go to ballots this time and vote for the ruling party. As per their size, his estimate is “1 to 2 percent.” This means that there will probably be some increase in the AKP votes in this election compared to the results in July. One should add to this some potential votes the AKP may garner from the party with whom it has the most similar (right-wing and conservative) base: the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The MHP certainly has many stable voters, but the very uninspiring performance of its leader, who has simply said “no” to everything since July, might seduce some nationalists toward the AKP. The AKP after all, abandoned the “peace process” with the Kurdish militants that they hated, and is pursuing the “war” they always wanted.

That is why I expect some increase in AKP votes on Nov. 1 – perhaps something around 2-3 percent. This may barely be enough for the AKP to reach a parliamentary majority. Or it may give them some additional seats, but still not give them the parliamentary majority they desperately want. I see the second option more likely, and, subjectively speaking, more preferably.

If this second option works, this time the AKP will not be able to escape from forming a coalition. But if it will be a coalition with the MHP, which will imply only more hawkishness on the Kurdish front; as such, it will really not be something to rejoice about.