What’s at stake in Turkey’s election?

What’s at stake in Turkey’s election?

Kimberly Guiler*
This Sunday, Turkish citizens will head to the polls in what promises to be the most consequential election since the stellar rise of the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. Although the AKP is certain to retain its parliamentary majority, the election will have important implications for the future of Turkey’s fragile democracy. In particular, the results will directly impact three important political issues. 

Separation of powers

Although the Turkish constitution stipulates that the president should remain impartial, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been campaigning on behalf of the ruling AKP, in the hopes that his party will win the seats necessary to alter the constitution and to change Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

Changing Turkey’s system of government to an executive presidency will further decrease the separation of powers in Turkey, vesting additional power in the already dominant position of Erdoğan. Under the rule of Erdoğan and the AKP, Turkish institutions have become increasingly centralized, with the country’s courts, military, press, and even the top scientific body being purged of dissidents. 

Software engineer Bünyamin Coşkuner, 24, says that while he used to support Erdoğan, he has grown wary of the president’s increasing hold on power. 

“I think having so much power for more than a decade changed Erdoğan a lot,” said Coşkuner. “He thinks he can do anything he wants and that people will support him blindly.”

He added that he needs more information to decide whether a presidential system should be adopted in Turkey.  

“We don’t know what kind of presidential system Erdoğan has in mind and whether it will be good for Turkey,” Coşkuner said. “Maybe, it will be a good idea in the long run, but it has to be discussed a lot and everyone’s opinions should be involved.” 

Kurdish representation

Recent polls and simulations suggest that the AKP’s number of seats in parliament will be highly contingent on whether or not the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) can surmount Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold. The HDP, which normally gains parliamentary representation by fielding independent candidates, has decided to enter the elections as a political party for the first time. If the HDP passes the threshold, it is unlikely that the AKP will be able to obtain the 330 seats necessary to take the presidential system to a referendum, much less the 367 seats necessary for the party to unilaterally change the constitution. 

A small but growing percentage of left-wing, non-Kurdish voters are considering supporting the HDP in this election in the hopes that the party will pass the threshold and bring greater power sharing and democracy to Turkey. In addition, there is evidence that pious Kurdish voters who normally support the AKP may switch their support to the HDP in this election.  

“I am voting for the HDP because I want to see them pass the threshold,” said Günnur Aktoros, CEO and founder of an Istanbul-based recruitment agency. “I generally vote for the [Republican People’s Party] CHP … but now I am ready for a change.”

The HDP’s new party manifesto demands greater rights not only for its Kurdish core supporters but also for women, LGBTI, religious and ethnic minorities, and youth voters. The party’s manifesto promises to abolish the 10 percent threshold, end compulsory religious education, create women’s and youth ministries, and raise the minimum wage. 

Political accountability and fairness 

Turkish polls are inconclusive as to whether the HDP can pass the 10 percent threshold, with recent projections for the party ranging from 8.1 to 12.6 percent. Even if the party in practice overcomes this electoral obstacle, there is concern over whether or not the electoral outcomes will be trustworthy. 

An increasing number of people in Turkey believe that the country’s elections are not conducted fairly.

According to a recent survey, the rate of respondents who said they believed that “elections will not be fair,” has increased from 28 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2015.

Blogger and journalist Selçuk Salih Caydı cited electric cuts, as well as allegations of ballot stuffing, ballot changing and lost ballots as indicators of possible vote fraud in recent years. 

“The AKP government controls all of the state institutions. This means that they can cover up anything that they did together with several of these institutions,” said Caydı. “There isn’t large-scale evidence [of fraud], but there are small pieces of evidence. When you consider all of these things together, you can say that there is something going on.”