Will Turkish democracy pass the 10 percent threshold?
All political parties participating in the parliamentary elections set for June 7 submitted their lists of candidates to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on April 7. Over the next two weeks, the parties are planning to publicize their election manifestos and pledges to the electorate. The candidacy lists will be finalized on April 24 and the parties will hit the roads for their election campaigns up to June 6.
With less than two months to go to the polls, an analysis on the profile of the party’s candidates would give us clues about the post-election era. In power since late 2002 under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong leadership, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is entering these elections under a new chairman, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. However, Davutoğlu, whose objective is to prove himself as a successor to Erdoğan by keeping the party at least above a 45 percent level, is facing serious disadvantages. One of the most important disadvantages is Erdoğan’s unending interventions into his affairs and decisions in the party and in the government, which have seriously tarnished his political career. The fact that some of the AKP’s most senior and experienced politicians will remain out of the election race is also a huge disadvantage for Davutoğlu.
Navigating a parliamentary group composed of a new team with relatively less experience and younger lawmakers will take time for Davutoğlu. Although he tried hard, he was unable to stop his predecessor’s ambition to turn these elections into referendum in which “a Turkish model presidential system under Erdoğan’s rule” will be voted on. Therefore, it might be said that Davutoğlu will be demanding votes for a presidential system that he does not really support. Furthermore, Erdoğan’s recent statement about reading the part of the manifesto outlining the party’s approach to the presidential system, as well as his views about it, put Davutoğlu into a position of “subcontractor of Erdoğan.” It is in this state that the AKP will run in the elections.
Of all the parties, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) underwent the most transparent and democratic process for the selection of its candidates, with around 85 percent of potential lawmakers having been elected through primaries. Some 20 percent of candidates are women and a considerable number of them will be elected. CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also became the first party head to run in the primaries, setting an important example to all politicians in the country.
The profile of the CHP candidates, however, is not much of an indicator of what Kılıçdaroğlu has in mind for his party’s objectives and priorities for the next parliament. Three important subjects have dominated and are still dominating the party’s agenda: The Gezi demonstrations and its effects on social and political life in Turkey, the Kurdish peace process, and the massive corruption and fraud allegations against Erdoğan, his family and some other prominent AKP figures. It is obvious that Kılıçdaroğlu’s team lacks some figures who would shape the CHP’s policies in the best way to respond to these issues. This election is also very important for Kılıçdaroğlu’s political career, with his set target at 35 percent. Anything less than this target will make his dissidents start to question his leadership.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will enter elections under the leadership of its two-decade leader Devlet Bahçeli, who will be able to keep the party’s votes at around 15 percent. There is information that the MHP’s votes will possibly increase, especially in response to the Kurdish peace process. The party has imported some important, prominent and urban faces to its cadres in order to reach its non-traditional MHP voters and collect votes that might defect from the AKP.
However, there is no doubt that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that will be the main determiner of the Turkish political environment after June 7. In challenging the 10 percent national election threshold, the HDP is doing everything it can to enter parliament. Under the strong and successful leadership of Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP is trying to mobilize its grassroots all around the country to garner enough votes to pass the threshold. To this end, it has enriched its lawmaker candidate list with strong names as well as figures from social democratic and socialist backgrounds in order to reach different political groups. Having the experience of last year’s local and presidential elections, the party will first focus on collecting lawmakers from Southeastern Anatolia as well as being heavily involved in the three largest cities: Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, which together make up nearly 30 percent of all 550 seats of parliament.
Despite the complexity of this political picture, there is only one simple question: Will the HDP pass the threshold or not? That is why political forecasts about the composition of the next parliament should wait until late June 7. If the HDP fails to pass the threshold, Turkey’s already-weakened democracy will pay the price.