Turkey’s general election on June 7 is shaping up to be just as nail-biting – and potentially just as surprising – as last week’s shock-result UK election.
Under former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who became President last August - Turkey’s governing AKP party has been the most successful political party in modern Turkey, and hasn’t lost an election since it was founded in 2001.
However, in recent years the party has come under fire for its increasingly autocratic rule. And with the economy stagnating, many Turks are restless and seeking an alternative. But is AKP’s run of super majority government finally over? Or will Turkey return to the days of multi-party rule? Let’s have a look at the main players in what promises to be the closest election in 14 years.
Justice and Development Party (AKP)
Turkey’s largest party with 312 MPs, the AKP, is led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Former Prime Minster Erdogan, who is also AKP’s founder, became President last August. Erdogan has always described his party as a modern conservative party that draws on traditional values, and AKP has been compared to popular Christian Democrat movements around Europe. Since it was founded the AKP has portrayed itself as a pro-Western and pro-American party, advocating a liberal market economy and Turkish EU membership.
The AKP’s initial success was due to its ability to unite Turks – from liberal intellectuals to passionate nationalists. The middle ground that the party found centered Turkish politics, and in the early years of AKP rule the economy flourished, curbing inflation and reforming the economy. The changes wrought by the AKP improved life for ordinary Turks and the population looked forward to years of prosperity and greater liberalism.
The party has won three general elections: in 2002, 2007 and 2011. The last election saw the party win almost half the votes across Turkey – a resounding success and a record for the party.
Republican People’s Party (CHP)
Turkey’s oldest political party is the main opposition to the ruling AKP. The CHP describes itself as a modern social-democratic party that is faithful to Turkey’s founding values and principles.
Established in 1923 with the founding of modern Turkey, the CHP was originally led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, considered Turkey founding father. The CHP established single-party rule in Turkey, and operated this way for its first 25 years. With some of the most radical reforms ever seen in the country, Ataturk’s party turned Turkey into a westward-looking, secular-rule country.
The CHP introduced multi-party democracy in 1946, when fascism went out of favour in Europe and multi-party politics became the democratic standard. The party called an election before any opposition parties could materialise, unsurprisingly emerging as leaders once again. However, in 1950 the CHP was ousted by the centre-right Democrats, and since then has never governed alone.
The CHP has always been at the forefront of Turkish progressivism. However, the party’s lack of direction and identity has ensured it’s never been a serious contender for rule.
But this might be changing. In 2010 a new leader took the reins. Kemal Kilicdaroglu began the mammoth task of reviving the failing party, focusing on transforming its image and ousting a number of established party members.
People’s Democratic Party (HDP)
The People’s Democratic Party is a left-wing party, founded in 2012, and the political arm of the PKK, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party. The party is the most progressive among the alternative options: it embraces not only the contentious issue of Kurdish rights, but advocates for autonomous local governance, LGBT rights, worker’s rights and green politics. It’s also committed to gender equality, and almost 50 percent of the candidate MPs are women.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)
Turkey's nationalist party has recently softened their ultra-nationalist edge to try and appeal to the diverse population. Headed by Devlet Bahceli, the party has never managed to achieve more than the 15 percent of the votes - 10 percent is the parliamentary threshold. The upcoming election will be an interesting one for MHP. Voters who are disillusioned with the ruling AKP party and who believe their policies have paved the way for HDP to gain strength might just turn to the MHP, whose policies remain comfortably nationalistic. This could see the MHP gaining an extra 4-5 percent.
Background: the rumblings of dissatisfaction with AKP
In recent years AKP has been dogged with controversies. Critics believe the parties secular principles have been compromised, and the party’s leanings towards Islamist policies have increasingly come to dominate Turkish politics. Despite Erdogan’s public endorsement of secularism, many Turks believe that the president’s “hidden agenda” is alienating both modern Turks and Turkey’s neighbours and trading partners.
In 2013 the rumblings of dissatisfaction turned to a roar when protests broke out against the party’s authoritarian rule. Sparked by a proposed development in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the protests spread throughout the country. The swift and brutal military and police crackdowns that followed received international condemnation. Since then, the party has cracked down on freedoms such as internet use, alcohol and abortion. These sanctions, coupled with a slowing economy, has seen cracks appear in the AKP and faith lost in the ruling party.
In his third term, Erdogan has sought to solidify his power by running for presidency, to which position he was elected. The move was calculated to increase AKP’s influence in the public and political sphere, but presidential powers won’t be realised without a constitutional amendment that will allow Erdogan to establish a semi-presidential regime, which critics fear will lead to an even greater authoritarian rule. However, unless AKP is once again elected with a super majority, it’s very unlikely that Erdogan will have enough support to make the amendment possible.
A game-changing election
Political pundits agree that the ruling AKP party is likely to bag the most votes, securing the majority with around 40 percent. However, there is every possibility that opposition parties will gain a parliamentary foothold – potentially heralding a sea change for Turkey’s political landscape.
The central left and right opposition parties, CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will likely have small increases in their share in the vote. Today’s CHP is very different from the party that ran in the 2011 election and is now a viable opponent to the ruling AKP. But the left-wing vote could well be split between the CHP and another contender: the pro-Kurdish HDP party, weakening its chances against AKP.
It’s likely that all eyes will be on the HDP party, who will take a central role – in the same way that the Scottish National Party did in the UK general election. The HDP has the potential to dramatically change Turkey’s political climate. Presently it’s predicted that around 72 HDP MPs could be elected – signalling the end of single-party AKP government and the end of Erdogan’s hopes for a presidential regime that would give him extraordinary power.
For the general election the HDP has decided to field candidates as a party, rather than have independent candidates from the Kurdish region where support for the party is strongest. This diverges from HDP’s previous election strategy, and it’s a risky move as it means they’ll have to attract 10 percent of the vote to make it to parliament. However, it’s a necessary move as the party needs to establish itself as a national left-wing opposition party, rather than a regional party that simply appeals to the Kurdish community. HDP’s electoral performance will depend on whether left-wing voters seeking an alternative to the opposition will vote on issues, leaving their nationalistic values to one side.
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