Sunday, 7 June 2015

Turkish general election: initial thoughts

Turks went to the polls today in the country's general election and proved that just as turkeys don't vote for Christmas, neither does Turkey vote for president Reccep Tayyip Erdogan to have unrestricted rule. 

The background to the election is fascinating. Erdogan gave up the premiership in favour of his deputy Ahmet Davutoglu in August and took up the presidency. It was supposed to be a Russian-style transfer of powers, creating an executive presidency, for which this election was in effect a referendum. Erdogan was barred from standing for a fourth term as an MP by AK's internal regulations.

Erdogan's AK Parti (Justice and Development) needed a two-thirds majority in the 550-strong Meclis to unilaterally change the constitution and transfer executive power from the Meclis to the presidency. Shatteringly for the Islamist party, Turks have punished the president for a perceived arrogant boorishness by not even giving AK a majority.

In Turkey, it matters not how many seats a party wins: if it doesn't reach a (remarkably high) 10% threshold, it is not allowed to enter the Meclis, and its seats are distributed directly to the winning party (AK) which effectively means a huge winner's bonus for the first party - as many as 9,99% of the seats in parliament. The performance of the predominantly Kurdish HD Partisi (People's Democratic party) seems to - ironically; happily - have deprived AK of that majority. They will now have to seek a coalition partner or govern as a minority. 

The election comes against a background of huge industrial unrest in the republic, which has increased support for the CHP, the Republican People's party, with metalworkers at Renault, Fiat, MMM, Ototrim, Turk Traktor, Ford and Valeo all on strike to the tune of twenty thousand workers, many of whom are actively occupying the plants.

This, in a country where Erdogan has severely curtailed trade union rights and further restricted the already slim right to strike. 

Metal is the most lucrative export for Turkey, totally US$160 billion annually, and the strike action is deeply displeasing to Erdogan's thoroughly authoritarian conservative regime, leaving the metalworkers in a massively important position within the Turkish working class. Scarily for the government, radical unions are in contact with comrades in neighbouring - and enemy - Greece, forming a Red Med alliance - anathema to a state in which successive governments have used Turkish nationalism and fear of Athens to cow the working class.

Another factor in the election is the aforementioned Kurdish issue. This is the first time the HDP has stood as a party list for the Meclis - a gamble which, if it had failed, would have left Turkish Kurds without any parliamentary representation and totally at the mercy of the AK party. It is a gamble which, unlike Erdogan's, seems to have succeeded, and put Kurds at the heart of Turkish democracy for the first time. Because the HDP polls very close to the threshold, a failure to enter would see close to 10% (55 seats) transferred directly to AK. Thus, HDP's entry into parliament is the direct substantive cost of the loss of AK's majority.

The parties which seem to have passed the threshold for Meclis representation are AK, CHP, Milliyetci Hareket (the far-right), and the HDP, with the Anatolian party (a breakaway from CHP) just falling short. 

Potential coalitions are CHP-MHP-HDP as an anti-AK government (although it is extremely difficult to imagine the far-right Turkish nationalists and the Left-wing Kurdish nationalists governing together. Indeed, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has formally ruled the idea out), with CHP-MHP and CHP-HDP governments also under discussion pending the full results. 

The HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas has ruled out an AK-HDP coalition under all circumstances, although AK is reported to seek discussions with the HDP to bring their constitutional reforms (although they have failed to get the 2/3 majority necessary to bring them about unilaterally, 330 votes in the Meclis would be enough to bring the issue to referendum). Would the HDP agree to a referendum in return for massive devolution to Kurdistan and the release of imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan? I would. In the long-term, further Kurdish autonomy could lead to a division of Turkey - a Nato member. 

If no coalition if formed, president Erdogan can dissolve the Meclis and go back to the country in 45 days. This may be the most likely outcome. 

There has also been some speculation in the Turkish media about a potential CHP-AK grand coalition, but under former president Abdullah Gul, who is regarded as more collegiate and temperate than Erdogan.

The results remain as yet unclear, but what is clear is that Erdogan is now a lame duck president, his dream of creating a US-style executive presidency over. 

It is a significant victory for liberals, secularists, workers and Kurds. 

Davotoglu will come under massive pressure to resign as prime minister, and is due to give a speech later this evening at Ankara. 

I apologise for being unable to render the proper diacritical marks in the names of several of the politicians and parties in this piece. Where possible, I've used the closest English glyph to represent them.

1 comment:

  1. I was happy to read your post on this, we were in Turkey as part of a cruise in 2013 and both in Izmir and Istanbul there seemed to be a lot of unhappiness with Erdogan. Seemed he had most of his support in Rural Turkey. Our guide in Istanbul made a comment that Erdogan had taken the tax of Jewellery because his wife had a business selling it. The guide in Izmir was similarly jaundiced by him. I am glad that the Kurds have now got representation in Government, let us hope they are not similarly treated as we are in ours.