The AKP fears a level playing field

The AKP fears a level playing field

The Constitutional Court’s decision to accept an “admissible” application by three small political parties, which stand on the fringes of the political spectrum, to have the 10 percent electoral threshold reduced has seriously agitated members of the government.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and government spokesman Bülent Arınç are openly or implicitly claiming this is part of an attempt to topple the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

They are also accusing the high court of engaging in politics by accepting this application, and maintaining that only Parliament can reduce the electoral threshold. Arguing that this threshold was put in place at the time against their party, other members of the government are saying it is not their responsibility to reduce it now.

There is some truth in what the APK says. The 10 percent threshold was indeed put in place initially to keep Islamist and pro-Kurdish parties out of Parliament. It was argued then that this was necessary for political stability. However, the composition of Parliament since 2002 shows that this not only failed, but actually turned against those who avidly supported it at the time.

There are other facts to consider, too. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2008 that the 10 percent threshold was not a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, even though it was far in excess of thresholds in other democratic countries.

On the other hand, recent remarks by Haşim Kılıç, the head of the Constitutional Court, show that while the application to reduce the electoral threshold was admitted as admissible by the high court, it has to first be considered on procedural grounds.

Experts indicate that according to the law as it stands, an application to the court has to be made within 30 days of the alleged violation, which of course is not the case here.

Put another way, it appears only Parliament, as the government is maintaining, can reduce the threshold. The AKP is unlikely to support this and shoot itself in the foot at a time when it is preparing for general elections in 2015.

While there are truths in what the AKP says, the way it has reacted to the whole matter also says much. To start with, it indicates a concern within the government that if the electoral threshold was to be reduced the AKP may not come out as strong as it wants after the 2015 elections.

The results of this year’s municipal and presidential elections suggest the AKP may have reached its upper limit under the present threshold, and this is not the best of news for party executives who clearly want a strong victory so that they can have enough numbers in Parliament to fashion their own constitution.

There is also the fact that the AKP strongly criticized the 10 percent electoral threshold for being undemocratic at the time. Hiding behind the same threshold today casts a serious doubt over the AKP’s democratic credentials, especially given its claim to be introducing advanced democracy to Turkey.

By the same token, it is highly ingenuous of the AKP to argue in favor of the 10 percent threshold today on the grounds that this provides political stability, given the way it opposed this argument in the past.

Aware of all of this, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said recently, during an interview with TV station TGRT, that as a self-confident party, they did not need to hide behind an electoral threshold, and added they are open to considering new formulas in this respect.

Davutoğlu had to say this for the sake of political correctness given the democratic image he is trying to project. But it is obvious that he will not act, despite his fine sounding words, given his habit of saying such things and leaving them suspended in the air.

The bottom line, judging by the reaction in some government quarters, is that the AKP needs the 10 percent threshold because it fears a level playing field.