Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On June 7, 2015, Turkey is going to hold its 24th general election – probably the most heated in past two decades. In this country which is on the path of spectacular economic development, voter turnout is over 80 percent – one of the highest among European countries. Though the ruling Justice and Development Party aka the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) is expected to secure a majority in the parliament, there is a lot at stake for it in these elections. Its decade-long unchallenged rule may be on the brink of a setback.
The AKP has an excellent track record. A conservative yet economically liberal party, the AKP was created by a splinter group of the right-wing Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) of Necmettin Erbakan.
Most of its MPs are self-made businessmen and academics – including party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
When it came to power, AKP inherited a battered economy and a fragmented nation divided along ideological and ethnic lines. Under the leadership of the charismatic Erdogan, Turkey’s GDP per capita almost tripled within a decade, and its relations with the European Union improved significantly. The AKP was also successful in curbing the corruption and putting the army – which has been involved in multiple coups d’état – on the back stage. This enabled the AKP to make a clean sweep in seven consecutive general, local and presidential elections, as well as two referendums.
However, despite all this things have started to change in the past couple of years.
The most significant blow to the AKP’s reputation was a corruption scandal in 2013 involving several ministers and technocrats as well as Erdogan’s own son. A strong religious group led by Fethullah Gülen – a cleric who felt alienated by the AKP – was behind this exposé. Though most of the accused were acquitted, people still remember it. The use of force during the Gezi Park protests was another misfortune as it labeled Erdogan as an authoritarian leader. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Middle East foreign policy backfired, causing an influx of migrants from Syria. Additionally, its stubborn stance on certain issues, such as the Armenian massacre, distanced it from EU.
The economic boom is now turning into a bust, with the Turkish lira consistently falling against the US dollar, unemployment soaring to 11 percent and the projected growth rate sinking to 3% or even less – one of the lowest in decades. The opposition parties are using these circumstances to forestall the AKP’s ambitious post-elections plans.
Erdogan, who spent three terms as prime minster, has now assumed the presidential office. His role is largely ceremonial, but he still remains the most powerful person in Turkey and is active on the political scene. Erdogan seeks to introduce a presidential system in Turkey, which currently has a parliamentary system. The presidential system, coupled with a new constitution, was the central feature of the AKP’s New Turkey pre-election campaign.
If the AKP wins a three-fifths majority (330 seats) in the 550-seat parliament, it can put a new constitution to a referendum for popular approval; a twothirds majority (367 seats) will enable it to bypass the referendum. However, that looks easier said than done.
Early estimates suggest the AKP bagging a little more than 40% of the votes, while the share of Kemalist Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partis – CHP) seems to be around 20% and that of Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP) roughly 13%. The Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi, a successor of Erogan’s former affiliation Refah Partisi) and the Great Union Party (Büyük Birlik Partisi, a nationalist-Islamist splinter of MHP) are also in the arena.
But it is the pro-Kurdish, leftist People’s Democratic Party (Halklarin Demokratik Partisi, or HDP) which is turning into Erdogan’s worst nightmare.
This relatively new catch-all party with plans to be an aggressive opposition to the AKP has been able to garner the support of the long oppressed Kurdish minority as well as that of Turkish youth due to its liberal rhetoric – ranging from providing substantial rights to minorities to assuring LGBT rights.
Numerous alienated AKP voters, ethnic minorities and common voters disenchanted by Erdogan have decided to support this party. The HDP is expected to divide the AKP’s votes in a proportional representation system. But before that, it has to cross the electoral threshold by securing at least 10% of the total votes. If it fails, it may strengthen Erdogan’s bid as the AKP will pick up most of its seats. The HDP currently stands between 8.5% to 11.5% of the total votes according to the unofficial polls.
Thrilling results are expected in the next week.
Whatever the outcome is, the stakes are high for Erdogan.
The author is a senior at Istanbul Sehir University studying political science and international relations, sociology and psychology.