CESRAN Reflections on Turkey’s June 7 Parliamentary Elections by Dr. Ali Onur Özçelik
From 2002 onwards, the AK party won a majority in every Turkish election. Erdoğan always won comfortably, whether in national elections, local votes, or the more recent presidential one. However, the party lost its parliamentary majority and saw its share of the vote fall in the June 7 Parliamentary elections.
Given that no single party gained the majority necessary to form a government, the General Election of 2015, held on 7th June, signalled the most drastic change in political life in Turkey since 2002. While the results were devastating for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) due to the loss of votes (around 10%), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) fared better than expectations and won 80 seats with 13.1% of the vote. With regard to the other opposition parties, while the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) slightly lost support but remained as the second party with 132 seats, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was able to increase its vote and seat share, winning 80 seats with 16.3%.
The result was enough to put an end to a 13-year-long cycle of single-party governments formed by the AKP, heralding the coalition party era in Turkey. From my point of view, the possibility of a hung parliament has clearly hampered the desire of Erdoğan for the preparation of a new civic constitution and his advocacy for a presidential governmental system. Moreover, a majority of voters (around 60%) put a block on the AKP’s arrogance of power and Erdoğan’s desire for an authoritarian regime. Such a megalomaniac and authoritarian stance was clearly seen in President Erdoğan’s several public meetings as those were organized in a very similar way to an election campaign supporting the AKP, casting a shadow over the neutrality principle of the President. The political language used by Erdoğan in these meetings did not help the AKP increase its votes, but rather it exacerbated fears and hatred against him and the party itself. The main, or maybe the single, election strategy of the AKP was to avert the HDP’s entry into the National Assembly by passing the 10 per cent threshold. Such a strategy in fact provided stimulus for heterogeneous opposition groups (marginal socialists, LGBTIs, even those from the CHP flank) to vote for the HDP and its charismatic and sympathetic leader, Selahattin Demirtaş.
This short commentary is not written to analyse why the AKP lost its majority to form a single-party government, but to speculate on the possible promises and concerns and to consider what may happen if a coalition government is formed by the three opposition parties, viz. CHP, HDP and MHP. To begin with, the election result made it clear that non-AKP supporters (around 60 %), irrespective of their identity, ideology, educational and economic background, are not content with one-man rule. This overtly suggests that if President Erdoğan executes (or is forced to do so by a possible coalition government) his presidential role within a legally constituted framework, the already polarized and strained political atmosphere among pro-Kurds and pro-Turks, Alevis and Sunnis, seculars and conservatives may be minimized, if not totally ended. The limitation of presidential power and the close political connection with the party also helps AKP elites to consider what has gone wrong since 2011, causing a serious loss of votes and opening up a new political space for more democratic and liberal AKP elites to reshuffle the party’s stance towards a more rational and sustainable one. On the other hand , if both Erdoğan and the AKP elites insist on blaming other main stream political parties (CHP, HDP and MHP), the Gülen Movement (which is now used by the pro-AKP elites as the scapegoat for every political issue in Turkey) as well as the West-driven pressure groups (whose identity is still not clear) for dirty games targeting him and his party, the AKP may lose votes at best and, at worst, disintegrate into different political groups inside the party. In my opinion, for sustainable peace and democracy in Turkey, the AKP has to analyse what gave them power in their first two general election campaigns of 2002 and 2007 and to understand that democracy is not only about winning at the ballot box. In other words, Erdoğan and his supporters should respect the decision of the electorate rather than claiming that the AKP is still the winner of the election t because it emerged as the top party again in the 2015 General Election.
Another clear message was that the HDP and the MHP, to different extents, were both winners in the election. On the surface, this tells us that identity politics played a role in determining such electorate success. This assumption is more pertinent in the case of the MHP but it does not tell the whole story of the HDP’s election success. The fact is that a Kurdish-dominated party has become the third biggest political group in the Assembly for the first time in Turkish political history. I agree with many of those who believe that some votes were strategically given on deposit for the HDP in order to reduce the AKP’s dominance. However, the other point requiring attention is that the newly formed pro-Kurdish political movement, the HDP, has sought to become a main party for certain minorities or disadvantaged groups such as Armenians, Ezidis, LGBTIs, marginal socialists, and other ethnic groups, who have not found a political channel to represent their interests at the Turkish Parliament. The HDP’s success in this sense may provide a more colourful and sustainable democracy inside Turkey as long as the HDP elites keep their promises and become a main interlocutor for those people in Parliament. On the other hand, if the HDP and the MHP choose to marginalize their political language towards a more nationalistic axis and seek to satisfy the interests of their respective party alignments, it is highly likely we will witness a new form of deadlock hampering democracy and the peace process in Turkey. For me, the success of both parties and their equal seats in Parliament represents a golden chance for Turkey, although there can always be risks around the corner.
For the sake of democratic maturity and to some extent a normalization process in Turkish politics, the leaders of all three opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), should moderate and liberate their own political interests instead of pursuing short term political gains. Such a coalition may offer a number of opportunities. For example, it may open a new period for Turkish democracy in which it fights back against many of the undemocratic laws and policies put in place by the AKP in recent times, gives space for freedom of speech and, more importantly, investigates corruption allegations against leading AKP figures. Furthermore, there may now be fair competition among political parties in the next general election. However, if they do otherwise or choose different paths, Turkey will face some difficulties because of concerns as to whether or not a coalition government can be formed or whether there will be an early election. As a result, we should foresee some difficulties but not give up on our hopes for the future, which the recent election has provided for us.