Turkey Flirts with Radical Change in the 2015 Elections
The air in Turkey is charged with music blasting from political vans as they drive through the streets in anticipation of the 2015 elections that will be held this June. The streets are littered with flags representing the spectrum of Turkish political parties running for seats, and newspapers are filled with stories on supposed corruptive tactics of various political parties.
The Syrian Crisis and its impact on Turkey are long from over, and therefore the refugees become an important platform issue for all parties running. Over a cup of chai at a local Syrian restaurant in Gaziantep, Suhalia, a youth activities coordinator for the AK Parti, says a vote against the AKP is a vote against Syrian integration. Indeed, harsh rhetoric against Syrian refugees in Turkey figures prominently in anti-AKP campaigns. However, Busra Dilioglu, a research analysts at UTSAM, an Ankara based think tank, said that even though some minority parties might talk about kicking the current Syrian ‘guests’ out, they will only do so after the "Syrian Crisis is resolved." It is rumored that the Turkish parliament is waiting to introduce a comprehensive law on Syrian refugee integration until after the elections.
But the Syrian issue is only one factor in this important election. According to SETA research analyst Mehmet Ugur Ekinci, the main issue concerns the AKP’s majority and how that influences a larger constitutional debate in which Erdogan is at the core. The Turkish parliament has traditionally seen a powerful prime minister as the major executive power with a ceremonial president. However, since his election, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has transitioned to become more like a United States president.
If the incumbent majority party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), increases their parliament seats from 312 to 400, they could unilaterally vote to change the constitution to implement a presidential government structure. This would effectively legitimate the influence Erdogan has garnered and further extend his executive power, which many see as having gone too far.
The role of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on the other hand, has been in decline. Previously, as the Foreign Minister, Davutoglu instituted popular reforms influencing the new direction Turkey has taken in the past 10 years. However last April 23, Turkey’s annual National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, Zaytung, Turkey’s version of The Onion, portrayed Davutoglu as having the same power as the children selected to play ministers for the day. The upcoming elections has little to do with who will be the future prime minister, but whether or not the position will still exist.
The AKP’s rise to power in the last decade signals a change in the larger spectrum of Turkish political parties. The AKP comes from the Welfare Party’s tradition, whose main support comes from an Islamic voting bloc, a characteristic historically banned from politics in the secular, borderline laic Turkish government. AKP’s ideology rests in promoting a conservative democracy while investing in economically liberal policy.
Under their current parliament supermajority, they have improved basic economic standards of living and spurred the Anatolian Tiger business sector, placing Turkey in the rising MINT economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey). The AKP has won a majority of the mayoral elections, proving successful as local administrators delivering public goods and services. They have also started a peace process with the previously alienated Kurdish political units. Whether or not, the process has been successful is up for debate.
Two of their largest opponents come from different ends of a nationalist spectrum. The People’s Republic Party (CHP) falls in on the spectrum as a center-left, modern-Turkish nationalist party, representing the historically secular nature of Turkish politics. As the largest minority party in the current parliament, their platform focuses on minimum wage and social welfare increases. The National Movement Party (MHP) has largely the same aims but lies on the far right.
Perhaps the most influential vote lies with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a new Kurdish party running for the first time as a unified political unit. Last year, most representatives ran as independents in local elections and won about 6 percent. If they had run as a political unit, they would have lost their seats, which would have been redistributed to other majority and minority parties, because they would not have crossed the 10 percent of the vote threshold necessary to gain representation. This unique feature of the Turkish election process makes this year’s elections a gamble for those running under the HDP party name. Having a leftist ideology, their platform includes expanding women’s rights, the rights to public education in native languages (i.e. Kurdish and Arabic), doubling the minimum wage, and giving the youth discounted transportation access.
Most importantly, they have access to the Kurds and would be the key to continuing the peace process. Normally the Kurdish population in the southeast votes almost exclusively for the AKP because of its Islamic identity, their attempt to include Kurds and Kurdish policy in the political process, and their investment in infrastructure in the region. However, the HDP now presents an alternative for the Kurdish vote as well as a vote preventing another AKP supermajority.
The fear of Erdogan amassing a super-executive power is spurring the general population of Turkey to support alternative minority parties in the hopes of forcing a coalition government. However, Erdogan is not giving up on the vote in the Kurdish-majority southeastern provinces. He spearheaded a ceremony to dedicate a hospital in Urfa May 24 to a less than full venue, leading Turkish journalists to exaggerate the appearance as a speech to an empty square.
Contributions from Ernie Piper IV.