Turkey votes for the future of its secular republic
Could CHP form a coalition to mark the end of Erdogan’s rule?
June 7th 2015 | London | Bartu Kaleagasi
Photograph by Reuters
Today, Turkey votes to elect the members of its Grand National Assembly, a parliament with 550 seats for which a total of 20 parties are running.
Yet, due to the extreme electoral threshold of 10%, only a handful of them can ever be represented. This includes the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
After coming into power in 2002, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Prime Minister, the AKP government reversed many of Turkey’s secular principles and introduced its own style of authoritarian rule.
Last August, as Erdogan won Turkey’s first ever presidential election by a simple majority of 52%, his roles as Prime Minister and leader of the party were carried on to Davutoglu – the former Minister of Foreign Affairs. To mark the occasion, Erdogan built himself a $615 million palace using taxpayer money, causing public outrage over his plans to rule the country through an executive Presidential system described as “quasi-dictatorial” by the opposition.
Due to its serious attacks on freedom of speech and democracy, AKP’s critics are both nationally and internationally numerous. As a result of AKP’s rule, Turkey currently ranks as 149th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the least free countries on the planet despite its position in Eastern Europe.
In 2013, thousands of citizens were either killed or imprisoned during the Gezi Park Protests, and journalists who dare criticise the government are frequently arrested and imprisoned.
As has been the case for the last 13 years, AKP is expected to secure the largest amount of seats once again – between 35% to 40% according to prediction polls. They currently hold a majority of 311 out of 550 seats in Parliament.
As the founding party of the Turkish Republic, CHP was established in 1923 by Ataturk and governed the country for several decades. Today, it is the most prominent opposition to AKP. The party supports social democracy, secularism, civil and political equality for women, state support of the sciences, and free education.
Throughout AKP’s rule, CHP has consistently been against censoring of media, for freedom of speech, and for further integration into the European Union. In contrast to Erdogan’s cold relations with the United States and neighbouring countries, CHP adopts a more cooperative stance with more westernisation and secularism, rejecting AKP’s focus on traditional islamic values.
When video tapes proving government corruption by Erdogan were posted on Youtube, CHP played a key role in bringing public attention to the issue and calling AKP out on its crimes. Yet, despite this cloud of controversy surrounding AKP and clear evidence of corruption, conservative voters continued to dismiss CHP’s claims as frivolous.
Photograph by Reuters
Economically, CHP advocates social democracy along the lines of other parties in the Party of European Socialists (PES). Although AKP saw GDP growth rates soar to 10% with low inflation, the tides have recently turned the other way with a rising budget deficit, high unemployment, and high inflation. This presents an opportunity for CHP to garner support by offering a more stable future with better prospects for the working class.
Currently, CHP embodies 125 out of the 550 seats of the Parliament. Today, they are expected to receive up to 30% of the national vote, potentially giving them the chance to form a coalition government against AKP with either MHP or HDP.
As a right-wing party, it is known for its Turkish nationalist ideology, and is currently the third biggest party in Parliament. It has long played a key role in Turkish politics, even coming together with CHP in the 2014 presidential election to field a joint candidate, Ihsanoglu.
Photograph by Osman Orsal
Today, they are expected to secure around 15% of the national vote. This could be crucial in hopes of forming a coalition with CHP if AKP fails to receive the majority it needs to form a single-party government.
As the fourth largest party in Turkey, HDP supports secularism, democratic socialism, anti-capitalism, environmentalism, direct democracy, minority rights, LGBT rights, feminism, and anti-nationalism. It aims to represent various ethnic minorities within Turkey, of which the Kurds are the most prominent group.
The 29 seats currently held by the HDP were obtained as a result of the unification of multiple independent deputies. For the first time, they take part in elections as a party, which indicates their confidence in passing the electoral threshold.
Photograph by Lefteris Pitakaris
Although HDP promotes progressive values and greater civil freedom, they are faced with skepticism by many Turkish voters due the party’s past association with PKK, a Kurdish organisation recognised for acts of terrorism by Turkey, NATO, and the USA, amongst others. Neither chairman Demirtas or chairwoman Yuksekdag have ever given formal insight on their connection with the PKK, but critics argue that their stance on Abdullah Ocalan, the organisation’s imprisoned founder, suggests that they do support it.
HDP’s performance today is likely to determine the entire country’s future. If it does not manage to pass the 10% electoral threshold, all of its votes will be distributed proportionally to the other 3 parties. This would allow AKP to gain a larger majority of seats, potentially having enough to change the constitution and install an executive Presidential system with Erdogan as ruler.
However, if HDP does pass the 10% barrage, it will not be possible for AKP to receive the 50% it needs to form a single-party government. This would then allow CHP to potentially form a coalition government, ending AKP and Erdogan’s authoritarian rule over the country and restoring secular democracy to the republic.