The AKP’s Strength and Turkey’s New Two-Party System

The AKP’s Strength and Turkey’s New Two-Party System


News from Turkey is constantly changing at a dizzying pace, but a new and permanent paradigm is arising: a strong ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the maturing of a two party system.

A recent study that we conducted with colleagues at The Washington Institute’s Turkish Research Program used a non-traditional method of assessing the results of the June 2011 Turkish elections, split between six electoral regions that we defined, illustrated to us emergence of a two-party system, whereby the AKP and a given opposition faction received at least 75% of the vote.

The electoral regions we defined include: the Heartland (the Anatolian plateau in the broader sense), Coastal Turkey (Thrace, the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, including İzmir), Metropolitan Turkey (Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Adana, and Kocaeli), Euphrates Valley (from Erzurum in the north to Gaziantep in the south), Southeast (predominantly Kurdish areas along the Iranian and Iraqi borders) and Middle Turkey (economically median provinces along the Black Sea, in western Anatolia and elsewhere).

One of the most interesting results of the June elections was that only the AKP enjoyed strong support in all six electoral regions, even with them performing below the national average in Coastal Turkey. In contrast, the other parties had mixed results across the country.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) performed above its national average in Metropolitan and Coastal Turkey (well above in the latter case), yet below average in the Euphrates and rather poorly in the Anatolian Heartland and Southeast.

The Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which is on the right, performed above its national average in Middle Turkey, yet below average in the Metropolitan region and much worse in the Euphrates and Southeast. Finally, Kurdish nationalist Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) performed above its national average only in the Southeast.

A key finding was that in five of the six regions, the AKP and the CHP received a total of 75% or more of the vote in the majority of provinces: specifically, fifteen provinces in Middle Turkey, twelve in the Heartland, seven in the Euphrates, six in Coastal Turkey and five in Metropolitan Turkey. Only in the Southeast did an AKP-CHP two-party trend fail to emerge.

Secondly, the AKP and MHP received 75% or more of the vote in a near majority of the Heartland (eleven provinces).

Thirdly, the AKP and BDP dominated the Southeast, receiving a combined 75% of the vote in all eleven of the region’s provinces.

Under the emerging the two party system, Metropolitan Turkey and western coastal provinces (both beneficiaries of migration from other electoral regions) will become major battlegrounds for the AKP and CHP. The two parties collectively dominated these regions, with the AKP defeating the CHP by 19 percentage points in Metropolitan Turkey and the CHP defeating the AKP by 7.6 points in Coastal Turkey. Although Middle Turkey will continue to play a significant role, the winner of the next elections will largely be decided in these two regions, which produce 241 of the parliament’s 550 deputies and whose share in the legislature will only increase due to ongoing migration.

Political polarization between the AKP and CHP has become pronounced in certain regions, with Heartland and Euphrates voters supporting the AKP far above its national average (61.6% and 60.3% respectively, compared to 49.9% nationally) and Coastal voters supporting the CHP far above its averages (42.4% amongst the coast compared to the 25.9% support nationally).

In the coming months, as the Turks begin the process of drafting a new constitution, the AKP will rely on strong support from regions such as the Heartland, while facing obstacles from the opposition from Coastal Turkey. Moreover, given the polarized debate in the country over the Kurdish problem, polarization between the AKP and BDP in the Southeast (where the two parties received 39.6% and 51.9% of the vote, respectively) will remain an issue, especially as Ankara seeks consensus on whether to define Kurdish rights in the new constitution and if so, how to do this in a way acceptable to all ‘parties.’

* Hale Arifağaoğlu is a research assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.