Will Turkey amend 50 plus one election rule?
Among the many current issues and problems that overwhelm the country’s agenda, it was a remarkable development that the 50 percent plus one vote election threshold for electing the president has become debatable in Turkish politics once again.
There were long-standing rumors that many senior members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were complaining about this election threshold because it was obliging all the parties to create alliances, although they have no commonalities at all.
As can be recalled, Turkey replaced the parliamentary system with the executive-presidential model through a referendum in April 2017. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as the president in June 2018 elections as the joint candidate of the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which make the People’s Alliance.
The discussion over this 50 plus one election rule came to the fore after Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu disclosed the content of his conversation with Erdoğan last week. Karamollaoğlu argued that Erdoğan told him about the inconveniences stemming from this election threshold. There was no denial from the presidency over Karamollaoğlu’s statements.
A more blunt and critical statement over the system came from Cemil Çiçek, a veteran AKP politician who is now a member of the Presidential High Advisory Board. In an interview over the weekend, Çiçek blamed the 50 plus one election rule for political problems as it was obliging political parties to establish alliances, although they have no common views or political positions.
According to Çiçek, it’s because of this election rule that mainstream political parties like the Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the İYİ (Good) Party had to come together – though indirectly - with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) despite the fact that it is a subject of a closure case by the Constitutional Court over terror charges. He even claimed that the election rule could drag Turkey into chaos and called on both the government and opposition parties to do something about it.
The first official statement on the matter came from Ömer Çelik, the spokesman of the AKP, following a routine party meeting under the leadership of Erdoğan on Monday, Nov. 15. Çelik reaffirmed that the 50 plus one rule would apply in the next elections, and there would be no change about it. But he also said those who express opinions about the system change should unveil them in a concrete fashion.
Erdoğan did not touch on the issue, but MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli was pretty clear that he was completely against any sort of discussion on this matter. He even lashed out at Çiçek and accused him of repeating the arguments of the opposition that is campaigning for a return to a strengthened parliamentary system. Bahçeli once again underscored that the MHP would continue to be part of the People’s Alliance up to the end and ruled out differences with Erdoğan over the continuation of their partnership.
The 2017 constitutional amendment has obviously changed the political structure in Turkey. It necessitates political alliances as no presidential contender can alone garner half of the votes in the first round of the polls.
This was experienced in June 2018 presidential elections that ended with Erdoğan’s win and in the 2019 mayoral elections in which Turkey’s largest cities were won by the oppositional candidates. On the road to June 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, there should be no expectation of a major amendment to the system, and that’s why both alliances keep their unity despite internal differences.