Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has oftentimes been in the media spotlight for his controversial remarks. From telling the New York Times to ‘know their place’ when they criticize him to claiming that ‘Muslims discovered America’, Erdoğan rarely manages not to make international headlines. With the general elections coming up in little more than a week, the Turkish president continues to do what he can in order to secure his goal.
A presidential system, Erdoğan’s dream
Erdoğan’s goal is clear: he wants his former party, the Justice and Development party (AKP), to win enough seats in order to alter the constitution. On multiple occasions he has called for ‘a minimum of 400 (out of 550) seats’ in order to change what he calls an ‘ineffective parliamentary system’ into a ‘superior presidential system’.
This new presidential system would massively increase Erdoğan’s power as it would effectively combine the legislative and executive powers. Critics have warned that Erdoğan is looking to remove the current checks and balances because he has more than once said he feels ‘chained’ by them.
Controversies & unrest
Though Erdoğan is one of the founders of the AKP, he was forced to abandon party politics when he decided to run for President. The Turkish constitution implies that the President in fact has to be non-partisan, or impartial. The truth however is that the Turkish President has been actively campaigning for his own party while criticizing opposition. On top of this, there have been reports of media bias as well. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, but to no avail.
So far, the campaigning period has been everything but calm. There have been two bombings on the Kurdish-problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) offices. According to the HDP, there have been over 70 attacks on their offices during the last five months. The main site for unrest has been the southern city of Adana, where in two separate incidents one AKP candidate was shot and a Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate stabbed.
Human rights situation
According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey is showing a “growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest, and critical media.” The most notable example of this intolerance is a controversial security bill, which broadened police powers and allowed the use of firearms against demonstrators.
The bill is a response to the violent protests in 2014 by sympathizers of the outlawed PKK. The protests were in turn a result of the Turkish unwillingness to help the Kurdish defend the Syrian city of Kobani against IS. The bill has been slammed by the opposition and human rights organisations. The European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri expressed the EP’s concern, stating that the bill endangers the right to protest, freedom of expression and privacy.
Media freedom has also been restricted heavily, not only for journalists but on social media as well. Erdoğan has also shown to be critical of gender equality, stating in November 2014 that “women and men are not equal” because “it is against nature.” Human rights have been a focal point for opposition parties CHP and HDP, who claim the government is currently failing to protect its citizens freedoms and rights.
A minimum of 367 seats, or a majority of two thirds is required in order to change the constitution. This goal seems to be out of reach as the AKP won 363, 341 and 321 seats respectively in the last three elections, in a decreasing order. In fact, recent polls show that AKP’s popular support has fallen from the 45-47 percent mark to roughly 41 percent. Polls over recent months have also shown that support for Erdoğan’s presidential system is wavering.
The Turkish opposition also has its part to play in preventing a constitutional majority. All opposition parties have clearly shown to be against the presidential system. As the support for AKP is slowly decreasing, the support for the oppositional left-wing CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MDP) is increasing. Their role is important, but not as important as that of the Kurdish-focused HDP.
The importance of the HDP
The biggest question in the 2015 general elections is whether HDP will meet the 10% electoral threshold. Currently in parliament with 29 seats, they’re looking to compete in the elections for the first time as a party. Previously they were elected through individual candidates.
Their main challenge lies in convincing conservative Kurdish voters, who would rather vote for the more conservative AKP than the HDP. The reason for this is that HDP does not only focus on minority rights for Kurds, they also focus on more secular goals such as gender equality. However, the government’s refusal to help the Kurds in Kobani in October 2014 has severely damaged the AKP's popularity amongst its conservative Kurdish supporters. The HDP have in turn attracted the attention of more secular voters due to their new catch-all approach.
The HDP’s participation is crucial for Turkey’s future because if they meet the 10% election threshold, they’ll more than likely prevent the AKP from achieving a constitutional majority as they would gain approximately 65 seats. However, if they fail to meet the threshold they will not get a single seat. Instead, those seats would predominantly go to the AKP party, most likely granting it the constitutional majority. It is clear that the HDP’s participation and results in the 2015 elections are important to Turkey’s future, the result of the 2015 general elections will therefore indeed decide the future of a nation.
By Jules Damoiseaux