The Turkish general election of 2015 took place yesterday. In what many outside Turkey have viewed as a surprising result, the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) took only 40.9% of the vote; leaving them still the largest party in the Grand National Assembly, Turkey’s unicameral legislature, but representing a drop of nearly 9% upon their taking in 2011. This equates to a loss of 53 seats in parliament.
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey comprises a total of 550 seats. It was established in Ankara by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on 23 April 1920, during the Turkish War of Independence, as the country transitioned from Ottoman rule to become a secular nation state. From 1961, the Grand National Assembly functioned as a bicameral parliament; but it became unicameral once again in 1982, following Turkey’s 1980 military coup which disbanded all existing political parties.
The AKP is a social conservative party on the centre-right of politics, which has been in power in Turkey since 2002. It was founded only a year earlier, made up of a broad swathe of right-wing politicians, many of whom had been members of the Virtue Party – which, espousing an Islamist politics, had been dismantled in June 2001 for violating the Turkish constitution’s secular principles – or the economically liberal Motherland Party.
Upon election in 2002, the party’s founding figure and then-leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was unable to take up the post of Prime Minister, having been imprisoned for four months in 1999 and banned from political office for delivering a religiously discriminatory poem while Mayor of Istanbul. Erdoğan became Turkey’s Prime Minister in early 2003. He remained in the role until last August, when he was voted to become Turkey’s President. Ahmet Davutoglu replaced him as the leader of the AKP and the country’s Prime Minister.
The AKP’s main opposition is the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP). A social democratic party of the centre-left, with its roots extending back to 1919 and Atatürk, it was effectively the sole party in Turkey until 1946: the year which saw the first multi-party elections in the country’s history. Last in power prior to 1980, yesterday the CHP took 25% of the vote, a fall on 2011 of almost 1%.
There is a 10% threshold which parties in Turkey must reach to gain representation in the Grand National Assembly. Two other parties achieved this yesterday: the Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP), a far-right nationalist party founded in 1969, which enjoyed its best national showing sixteen years ago, but whose 16.3% of the vote this time round means an increase of 3.3% on 2011; and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP), anti-nationalist, left-wing, and pro-Kurd, established only in 2012, and managing 13.1% of the vote.
The elections saw an impressive turnout of 86.5%. The results have emerged despite claims of an overt police and military presence; with two groups of Swedish election observers alleging that the military removed them from polling stations. Turkish general elections follow a system of closed-list proportional representation, based on the D’Hondt method. The percentages give the AKP 258 seats in parliament, the CHP 132, and both the MHP and HDP 80. As no party can form a majority government, a coalition seems the likely outcome – although voices within the AKP have differed on the probability of a snap election, which could be called within the next forty-five days.
Erdoğan at least seems to accept the need for compromise, stating today:
‘Our nation’s opinion is above everything else […] I believe the results, which do not give the opportunity to any party to form a single-party government, will be assessed healthily and realistically by every party.’
Alongside economic issues, with rising unemployment and stagnating growth; concerns over government-imposed censorship, covering everything from the traditional media, social media, and the right to protest; the continuing fallout from the 2013 corruption scandal; and the status of the Kurdish people; one of the key issues in the run-up to the election has been the Erdoğan-instigated call for a switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
According to Turkey’s parliamentary system, the Prime Minister – the leader of the ruling party – is the head of government. The President is the head of state, in a role which has typically been largely ceremonial. Until a constitutional referendum of 2007, the President was elected by parliament, and served a single seven-year term. With the changes proposed by the referendum receiving 68.95% of the popular vote, since 2007 the President has been elected directly by the people, to serve a five-year term with the possibility for re-election.
Since becoming President last August, Erdoğan has unusually led several cabinet meetings. Despite public disapproval, he and the AKP have pressed towards the constitutional reform which would give more powers to the Presidency. With 330 seats, the AKP could have called a referendum on the matter; and with 367 seats – a two-thirds majority – it could have changed the constitution without a referendum. While the latter figure was a distant hope, in 2011 they were only three seats away from 330. Yesterday’s election should at least thwart any immediate attempts in this direction.
The election will set a record for the number of female MPs in parliament. Around 96 women should find themselves with a seat; an increase on the 79 voted into power in 2011. The Kurdish people, who make up 20% of Turkey’s population, will find genuine representation in parliament for the first time; and the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish peace process should be considerably bolstered. Yet any coalition talks will prove difficult to conclude, with all three opposition parties appearing to rule out a deal with the AKP.
Photograph copyright of the dpa Picture Alliance, via web.de