Bringing down threshold to consolidate democracy

Bringing down threshold to consolidate democracy

It is no secret and probably even shepherds grazing their sheep on the hills of southeastern Turkey or workers harvesting tea at a Black Sea farm are well aware that Turkey’s main political problem handicapping that progression of democracy stems from two basic laws: the law on elections and the law on political parties.

No one is talking about a complex constitutional amendment that would either avoid or a referendum or require one in the parliament. At issue are two very important laws that are also rather easy to amend. A simple majority of those present in the legislature would be more than enough to introduce such a comprehensive reform that it might mark an unforgettable landmark. Over the past 13 years, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might have achieved those reforms if it had wanted to do so. 

Reducing the electoral threshold, making primaries a must in the preparation of the candidate lists of parties, introducing transparency in election campaigns and the funding of parties might all be achieved with a magic touch to the election law and the law on political parties.

The elections law has gone through many changes since it was first written by the military administration in 1982. Every amendment made to the law aimed at making it easier for the ruling parties to come to power with less and less support from the electorate. Since 1983 it was applied in nine parliamentary elections. In the 1985, 1987 and 1991 elections it was far more anti-democratic as besides the national threshold, there was also a local threshold, which, forget about smaller parties, impaired the election of independents altogether.

Removing the local threshold and continuing with the national threshold did not make the election system more democratic, however. The reason for that was the insistence of the parties in power to maintain the 10 percent anti-democratic threshold as it discriminated against the smaller parties for the sake of “stability in governance” principle. What about justice in representation? No one indeed bothered with it, though from time to time almost all parties, irrespective of their political leanings, paid lip service to the reduction of the threshold, but did nothing when they could.

Did the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) not fall victim to that inhumane and anti-democratic national threshold as well? Did the Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP) of yesterday not disappear from the political scene because of it (along with many other factors)? Though it was among its 2002 election promises to bring down the threshold, over the past 13 years, the AKP has done nothing on the issue apart from occasionally using it as a bargaining chip in some political bargains with other parties. Who can guarantee that today’s less-powerful AKP, still with over 40 percent electoral support, will not fell prey to that high threshold tomorrow? The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) managed to surpass the threshold in the June 7 polls but there is no guarantee that it will repeat it in a repeat poll or in the next elections. Already there are claims that polls show some 65 percent of MHP supporters were angry with the post-election behavior of the nationalist party. What if that anger turns to punish the MHP in the next vote?

Dealing with the threshold, pulling it down to a “reasonable” level or totally getting rid of it must be a priority for all parties, yet this issue has remained one of the most intractable problems of Turkish politics because of hypocritical approaches. Now the opposition parties have a clear edge in parliament over the biggest party which one would assume might not be that willing to bring down the threshold since it most helps bigger parties. If there is sincerity among the smaller parties, however, they could easily make amendments to the elections law as a simple majority will be more than enough.

The CHP presented a draft in parliament this week to bring down the threshold to 5 percent. That was a move in the right direction. Irrespective of which government is in office, the combined vote of the opposition now exceeds the required majority. Will the MHP find some obscure excuse not to support this move as well? Most likely. Yet, this is a golden opportunity not to be missed as pulling down the threshold might save millions of Turks from voting for their second-choice parties. At least, bringing down the threshold will be an act that consolidates democracy.