Fairness in representation and changes to Turkey’s electoral system
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is set to benefit most from the legislative proposal paving the way for a pre-election alliance between it and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The bill was submitted to parliament on Feb. 21.
The “d’Hondt” system that is used in seat allocation in Turkey always rewards the biggest party. In the new system, the number of votes for the two parties in alliance will be greater than their number of votes they would receive if they enter separately.
However, when the number of seats is distributed between the two parties, the bigger party will always have the advantage. In other words, the same number of votes will give one more seat to the AKP and one less seat to the MHP.
So why has the MHP agreed with this alliance?
The reason is that it means the MHP will not be have to deal with the “single-member district system” or the 10 percent election threshold on entering parliament.
What about the law?
MHP head Devlet Bahçeli had previously asked for the 10 percent threshold to be lowered. However, a lower threshold would make it easier for other parties to have seats in parliament. The AKP and the MHP therefore reached a deal that will effectively maintain the 10 percent threshold for other parties while abolishing it for the MHP.
Once this change becomes law, in theory it could allow a party with a million votes to enter parliament while another party with five million votes will not have any seat in parliament.
At the very least, this is at odds with the principle of equality.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Turkey’s 10 percent threshold is “excessively high” but it did not consider the threshold as contradicting with the principle of equality, as it was applied to all parties (No. 10226/03, Paragraph 103).
But now with the new system opposition parties will be subject to the threshold, while the parties forming an alliance are not.
Both the ECHR and Turkey’s Constitutional Court said the 10 percent threshold could be justified on the basis of “governmental stability.”
When the system changes
It is worth touching on the transition to the executive presidential system at this point.
In the new presidential system, the executive branch is not formed out of parliament. Instead, a president with executive power is elected. “Fairness in representation” must therefore form the basis of elections instead of “governmental stability,” but unfortunately the new changes to allow “electoral alliance” go in the opposite direction.
Zero or close to zero
The change also contradicts earlier pledges made by AKP officials. In an interview with journalist Kübra Par for Habertürk back in October 2016, AKP deputy Mustafa Şentop said the threshold would “either be removed or be merely symbolic” in the new system.
Fellow AKP deputy Burhan Kuzu also vowed in November 2016 that the election threshold would “either be removed or will be lowered to 1-2 percent.” Other figures from the AKP also made similar remarks on the issue.
Indeed, lowering the threshold would be the right thing to do in terms of constitutional law and political science.
It would be best if the threshold was lowered to zero or close to zero, which would help people develop a sense of belonging, feeling that they have a voice in parliament while also enabling parliament to “balance and supervise” the executive. Unfortunately, the recent changes to the electoral law do the opposite.