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09:27, 10 June 2011 Friday

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Turkish Parliamentary Elections (1)
Turkish Parliamentary Elections (1)

This election will be some different from other elections because although the returns are probably apparent.


By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin


Turkey entered in the last process of "Turkish General Election". This election will be some different from other elections because although the returns are probably apparent; it is evaluated as a life or death issue in terms of some groups/parties on the one hand and as a competition for distribution of chairs in the National Assembly in terms of "the new constitution/Turkey" on the other hand.

"This election is not about who is going to win. It is about getting a big enough majority to change the constitution." says Soli Ozel, an academic and commentator. In addition to this comment, Seyfeddin Kara focuses on the relation between the majority in the assembly and the new constitution:

"If this new constitution goes into effect the implications will be far-reaching. It will be the last stage of wiping out the old guard of the Turkish Republic and establish a powerful democratic, civil Muslim country. In order to achieve this, the AKP needs between 330 to 367 seats in the National Assembly. These two numbers are significant since with 367 seats the AKP will not need the support of any other party to approve the new constitution. If it cannot achieve this figure, any number above 330 will enable it to place the issue before the public for a referendum as they did for amending the constitution last August."

Before looking at the details of this rivalry, we should have some information about Turkey's election system.

Turkish electoral system...

As is emphasized in the news of Al-Jazeera, "Turkey is governed by a parliamentary system based on the single-chamber Grand National Assembly to which members are elected to serve four-year terms. The assembly is made up of 550 seats, with seats distributed to electoral districts according to population.

Istanbul, which is divided into three electoral districts, receives 85 seats, while Ankara, the capital, gets a further 31. Following recent adjustments by Turkey's Supreme Election Board, some provinces in less populated areas of the country are now represented by a single seat.

Seats are awarded on the basis of proportional representation, with each party gaining a number of seats in each district based on its share of the local vote."

"This proportional system is tweaked by a set of eligibility rules. Most known is perhaps the ten percent national threshold, but also parties must be fully organized in half of the 81 provinces, and in a third of the districts in these provinces. If a party is not then its candidates cannot be elected to the Meclis, whatever strong regional support.

In practice this means that parties with strong regional support, most notably the pro-Kurdish parties in the eastern and southeastern Turkey have severe difficulties with getting parliamentary representation. The electoral system however gives the opportunity for these candidates to run as "independent candidates", i.e. without any party, hereby circumventing the eligibility rules. To be elected as an independent it is enough to obtain enough votes to secure the mandated determined to the province." (

What does AKP's third term mean?

If Justice and Development Party(AKP) wins this election again, this will be third term for Erdogan's party. Actually, up to this time, in the AKP's government, there was a conflict/debate between status quo and liberal democracy advocators. While in the first term, AKP is very restless in its struggle with military domination; in the second term and especially after Abdullah Gul's being appointed as a president, AKP speeded up its struggle with military domination.

As we said in the previous analyses, we witnessed first changes in the early period of AKP Government in the name of EU membership: "The Turkish Parliament adopted eight legislative packages between February 2002 and July 2004, introducing somewhat revolutionary changes to the country's political system. As the European Commission's 2004 progress report on Turkey stated, these changes ranged from "improved civil liberties and human rights to enhanced civilian control of the military." The changes were so wide in scope that the European Commission, in response, recommended the EU to start accession negotiations with Turkey." (Turkish Daily News)

"During its eight-year reign, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has often faced off against the military, gaining political power by challenging a pillar of the country's secular establishment." says Serkan Demirtas. "In the 2000s, however, the political landscape was not as favorable for military influence in politics. The first reason for this shift was the European Union membership process, which nurtured the notion of democratization in the country; another was the AKP election victory that brought this "democratic conservative party" a clear majority in Parliament in 2002. Having seen what the political choices of many of its members led to in the past, the AKP resolved to be firm in confronting the military this time around."

Struggle with military's traditional tutelage...

But, actually, we saw/see the most important attacks against to the power of Turkish militarism in Ergenekon and Balyoz(Sledgehammer) cases after the second victory of Turkey's AKP Government in the parliament.

"For the last three years, Turkey's elites and the public at large have been riveted by what is known as "Ergenekon", a euphemism meaning "ultranationalist covert network". At bottom, the Ergenekon Affair consists of a series of indictments against former and active senior military and civilian leaders who allegedly plotted to overthrow the elected AKP pro-Islamic government by fomenting civil unrest through false-flag operations, so that the Turkish army, the "unquestioned" guardian of the secular unitary Turkish state, would have to intervene and restore order. The indictments and trials have caused deep fissures in the Turkish political fabric, and their outcomes, whatever they may ultimately be, promise to have a profound impact on Turkish society and politics." says Berna Uzun:

"For the supporters of the Ergenekon indictments, a cross-section of liberals, leftists, ethnic Kurds and religious-traditionalists, the trials are a test of the country's evolving democratic system, which seeks to end the long-standing power of the Kemalists, i.e., the Turkey's bureaucratic-military elite that has dominated the country since Kemal Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic after World War I. By contrast, Ergenekon's detractors view the judicial proceedings as a move by an increasingly authoritarian and oppressive civilian regime to consolidate its power and silence its opponents. According to this view, the trials are a stark example of how the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking to abuse democratic institutions and the rule of law in order deepen the role of religion in the country and eliminate opposition secularists as meaningful political actors. Thus, at bottom, the Ergenekon Affair has opened up an abyss of mistrust between the Turkish military and AKP, highlighting the profound polarization within Turkish politics and society that has emerged in recent years.

The investigation began in June 2007. Accused of being part of a "state within the state" illegal organization, Ergenekon is alleged to have been responsible for any number of political crimes and assassinations during the preceding two decades. Numerous members of the Turkish elite, including six senior military ex-commanders and three senior military commanders on active duty, politicians, columnists and academics were arrested following the unearthing of hand grenades at the home of an ultranationalist military officer in the Umraniye neighborhood in Istanbul. In addition, according to the prosecution, the existence of a string of alleged coup plots was uncovered in the spring of 2007 by the Turkish magazine Nokta, which exposed the "coup diaries" of former Navy Commander Ozden Ornek. The document detailed two plans for a military coup, Sarikiz ("Blonde Girl") and Ayisigi ("Moonlight"), aiming to overthrow the AKP's government in 2004, and included the names of the participants, their plans for carrying out the coup and their motivations as well."

Moreover, Referendum Process was also acquisition for transition to civil authority. As you know, 1982 constitution was 'coup constitution' and as Ihsan Dağı has said in his book entitled "Turkey between Democracy and Militarism: Post Kemalist Perspectives", "there is an important relationship between militarism and the spread of the culture of (in)security and fear in society, as well as the role of the insecurity culture in politics". In this way, Turkey needed some amendments in the constitution so as to solve problems of restriction of status quo. As Özgür Erkan mentions in Turkey's Today's Zaman Newspaper, "The AK Party rightfully aimed to put an end to this series of political crises through a new 'civil' constitution that would limit the powers of the judicial branch and curtail the powers of the military through several measures, for example, by bringing its budget fully under the control of the legislative branch." In the end, people voted the constitution on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 military coup. According to results, the package of 26 constitutional amendments passed with 58 percent of the vote. In this way, AKP provided its authority in large part.

What is the importance of 12 June 2011 for Turkish political arena?

In other words, AKP government has gradually changed the system of Turkish Republic from military structure to civilian-liberal structure. This shift is to be summarized in the election report of SETA(Foundation For Political, Economic and Social Research) systematically:

"Political actors as well as domestic and foreign policy options are undergoing a transformation in the country. The general elections on 22 July 2007 and the constitutional referendum on 12 September 2010 not only crystallized these changes but also indicated what the new orientation might look like. Following the referendum all political parties promised a new constitution. The promise of the new constitution raises expectations from the general elections on 12 June 2011 to build a "new Turkey." As a result of the debates on the new constitution and the new Turkey, political parties prepared their election manifesto for the 2011 elections according to their 2023 targets. Political parties made their economic and political promises with respect to 2023, that is the centenary of Turkish Republic. People are longing for a new Turkey free from its problems as large scale centenary celebrations are expected to take place in 2023."

"Speaking on Haberturk TV channel, Prime Minister Erdogan said that the Constitutional amendments made in 2010 were the first step towards a comprehensive Constitutional amendments package.

I believe that, following the elections in 2011, we will have a much stronger government working in the parliament. This strong government will make the necessary Constitutional amendments. As long as there is a will to make Constitutional amendments under the roof of the parliament, such amendments could be realized, Erdogan said."

Although some people believe that Turkey is going on good way, some commentators like Nuray Mert, a political scientist at Istanbul University, warns that the AKP was leading Turkey toward civilian despotism "The rule of this government may easily turn to one-party system or some sort of authoritarianism, and I think there are signs of this kind of prospect,...Especially in its second term, the government and politicians of the governing party cannot accept any criticism.... They cannot take any kind of criticism. They take it very badly and they start to put a lot pressure on those who are being critical in various ways."

Threshold problem...

In connection with a "civilian despotism", Soner Cagaptay, Hale Arifagaoglu & Gizem Kocver focus on the Turkey's Threshold:

"Turkey faces what could be historic elections on June 12. Opinion polls suggest the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will win the polls for a third time since 2002. The question though is whether the AKP will win the required 2/3 legislative majority to single handedly draft a constitution for the country, ushering in key changes to Turkey's political system since Atatürk created the country as a secular republic in the mold of Europe.

At this stage, whether the AKP can reshape Atatürk's legacy depends on Turkey's uniquely high percent electoral threshold. Electoral thresholds are common in multiparty democracies, in a system with dozens of parties, if all parties were to get into the parliament; a government would never be formed, so the smaller parties are kept out of the legislature.

But whereas most multiparty democracies have minimum thresholds for representation ranging from two to five percent of the popular vote, Turkey has the highest threshold among the liberal democratic countries, at ten percent.


Two particularly frustrated parties, which suffered the consequences of this law in 2002 were the center-right True Path Party, or DYP, and the rightist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, each of which barely failed the threshold, receiving 9.5 percent and 8.5 percent of the votes, respectively. Since that election, a polarization of the Turkish political system between the AKP and the CHP has emerged, and their relations remain contentious to this day.


With the upcoming elections on June 12, the threshold will once again work its "magic." While the AKP and CHP are projected to pass the threshold, a few polls show that MHP might fail to reach it, and no other party is projected to receive a ten percent vote. This means in the best case scenario for popular representation, around one-sixth of the electorate might be disenfranchised, assuming the MHP enters the parliament. If the MHP fails the threshold, as many one-quarter of all votes will likely not find voice in the parliament.

In these cases, the AKP could receive 330-380 seats in the legislature, either barely failing or coming within reach of the 2/3 (367 seat) legislative majority that it needs to unilaterally draft and approve a new constitution for Turkey without seeking consensus with the rest of the Turkish society."

Thus, The Economist calls for vote for CHP in terms of "check and balance system": "The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party."

Where is the check and balance system?

According to Omer Taspinar, The Economist magazine, actually, takes heart from Washington's viewpoint:

"In the second and arguably larger camp of critics, there are those concerned about creeping authoritarianism in the Turkish domestic political context. For a very long time, the dilemma in Washington has been the absence of a better alternative to the incumbent. Despite all its potential deficiencies, the AKP seemed the most democratic and pro-Western political party in the domestic context of Turkish politics. The absence of an effective civilian opposition was perceived as a major problem. This was particularly the case in 2007 and 2008, when the military and the judiciary appeared determined to sideline the AKP through undemocratic means. The military's infamous e-memorandum of April 2007 and the closure case against the AKP a year later found no support in Washington or Europe. Most Western analysts believed that the opposition to the AKP should be a democratic one at the ballot box, not one spearheaded by the Kemalist military or judges.

Since these dark days of 2007 and 2008, when there were real concerns about a military or judiciary coup, two new developments have changed Turkish domestic dynamics and the Western perception. First, between 2008 and today, the AKP emerged as the clear winner in the struggle for civilian control over the military. This is perceived as a good thing for Turkish democracy. But the second factor complicates this positive image for Turkish democracy. Having won its power struggle with the generals and judges, there is now a sense in Washington that the AKP faces no more checks and balances. Given the number of journalists in jail, many in Washington are asking whether one type of authoritarianism is being replaced by another. Add to this picture the emergence of a more democratic-looking Republican People's Party (CHP) under the new leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. As a result, it is not surprising that many in Washington and Europe believe it would be a good thing for the AKP supremacy to face stronger democratic opposition.

This is why reputable publications such as the The Economist, which have been remarkably objective about Turkey, are now calling for a stronger showing on the CHP's behalf in next week's election. I think a similar mood prevails in Washington. Everyone believes the AKP will win a large majority of seats in Parliament. But it is for a more balanced distribution of political power and to check potential authoritarian tendencies in the writing of the new constitution that a more powerful democratic opposition is desired. This is why many in Washington believe a strong vote for the CHP would be a good thing for Turkish democracy."

When we evaluate this picture more carefully, we can easily understand this "conflict language" between parties. Because of this reality, we termed this election as a "life or death issue". In connection with this issue, in her interview to Today's Zaman Newspaper, sociologist Nilüfer Göle comments the sentence/question of "But for some, they are still the "enemy" as a result of the power struggle between the supporters of the status quo and supporters of democracy" so: "In democracy, there is never 100 percent consensus, if there is, there is no democracy. Democracy is the possibility of disagreement. This may be the vulnerability of the government. They want to be liked by everyone. This realization requires maturation. When we go back to your question more seriously, this symbolic change of power has not yet come to an end. There is still that problem of legitimacy, but this question of legitimacy should come to an end. The government should also reassure people more that there is no problem of legitimacy and things will continue in a pluralistic and democratic system. There is a deeper battle that goes beyond the AKP and that's why we feel all concerned with the removal of the heavy-handed, what we call deep state. And Hrant Dink's assassination was the turning point in that regard."

Conflict theory or conflict language?

So, we should take all the events in related to election into account in order to evaluate general picture. MHP's sex video scandal or Kastamonu events are not except of this.

"It's almost for sure that we will have a new constitution in the next couple of years," Ali Carkoglu, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Koc University, told Al Jazeera.

"Everything depends on the result of this election. If the AKP wins with enough seats to reshape the constitution, then a great deal of conflict could emerge out of this. These are issues which touch the very foundations of the republic, and the debate now is getting very ugly."

On the other hand, "yet even with a parliamentary super-majority, any AKP attempt to radically change the political system would likely polarize the country," said Diba Nigar Goksel, the editor-in-chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly.

According to Al-Jazeera's news, opponents have been more forceful in their objections. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) accused the AKP of "despotic ambitions", while Nursen Mazici, a political sciences professor at Istanbul's Marmara University, wrote that under a presidential system "Turkey would become an authoritarian model, like Venezuela". In addition to this, "No matter how many votes the AKP gains, no matter how masterful the government turns, no matter if the prime minister becomes president, and no matter how remarkably Turkey grows, without finding a solution to the Kurdish conflict, nothing will work or become sustainable," wrote Cengiz Aktar in the Hurriyet newspaper.

In other words, parties see this election as a final exit because if they do not reach their aims, they are afraid of struggling with AKP despotism. So, maybe, we will see more "confront environment" in this game.


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