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Kurds the key factor in Turkey’s upcoming election

By DAVID ROMANO 13/6/2018
When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called snap elections in April, the country’s opposition parties were caught off guard. Everyone assumed that a divided opposition, together with the fresh military victory in Afrin, would easily hand Mr. Erdogan a renewed presidency and give his Justice and Development Party (AKP) another majority government. Following a constitutional referendum last year, this would in turn allow Mr. Erdogan to take on his new expanded presidential powers and abolish the post of prime minister.

Suddenly things look quite different in Turkey, however. An alliance of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the new nationalist IYI Party, the Islamist Felicity Party, and the centre-right Democrat Party means that all of these parties will pass the extremely high (10%) electoral threshold to win seats in parliament. Traditionally, the AKP benefitted from a rule wherein if a party failed to overcome the threshold, its votes went to the second place party in that district. 

The opposition also found several good presidential candidates and unified more than in any previous election. Various charismatic opposition candidates for president, including Muharrem Ince (CHP), Selahattin Demirtas (HDP), and Meral Aksener (IYI), between them seem likely to gather some 45% of the vote – compared to Mr. Erdogan’s 45%. 

This would force a second face-off vote between the top two candidates, meaning in all likelihood Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Ince, behind whom opposition parties promised to unify. If the opposition to Erdogan coalesces in this way, it could cost him the presidency. Someone other than himself holding the vastly-increased powers of the presidency probably never even occurred to Mr. Erdogan and his loyalists, or else they would not have made the post so powerful.

For the parliamentary election, the opposition alliance is currently polling neck-and-neck with the ruling AKP and far-Right National Movement Party (MHP) alliance – around 43% for each (despite the government’s control of 90% of Turkish media). This will not be enough for the AKP to form a majority government. 

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP), meanwhile, is also polling well above the 10% needed to pass the electoral threshold. This would give the Kurds the key to forming a new government – although a coalition between the HDP and the ruling AKP/MHP alliance appears unthinkable (especially with the HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, still imprisoned by the ruling parties – along with a good portion of the HDP’s parliamentarians and mayors). At the same time, the nationalist IYI Party, a splinter of the extreme-Right MHP, abhors the pro-Kurdish HDP and seems unlikely to agree to a coalition with them either.

If there is anything that unites the opposition parties and their voters these days, however, it is dislike of Mr. Erdogan and his 16-years of rule. The possibility of an opposition-formed government – even for just a short time – would change everything. The former opposition parties, as soon as they control parliament or the presidency, could be expected to immediately form commissions of inquiry into corruption and other illegal activities of Mr. Erdogan and his AKP during the last 16 years. They would also immediately purge all the Erdogan loyalists from their nepotistic postings. Emergency rule powers would be turned against their current wielders to potentially devastating effect.

Mr. Erdogan and his AKP, in other words, cannot afford to lose control of either the parliament or the presidency. They simply broke too many of their own laws and made too many bitter enemies during their long, polarizing time in power. Because they can no longer even contemplate a retreat to a peaceful role in the opposition, elections like this one have thus become all or nothing undertakings. One should therefore expect all kinds of electoral shenanigans on the June 24 election day.

The worst electoral shenanigans will likely occur in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. In almost every district of Turkey’s majority-Kurdish areas, the HDP and AKP remain the two top parties (pious Kurds tend to vote AKP, while nationalist and secular Kurds vote HDP). If Mr. Erdogan and his minions can prevent the HDP, via various stratagems, from breaking through the 10% electoral threshold, all their votes will go to the AKP. This by itself would allow the AKP to form a majority government.

The emergency rule decrees following the 2016 attempted coup and the weak media presence in the Kurdish areas will also make electoral shenanigans easier to accomplish there. In very divided AKP-HDP districts, one should expect an especially heavy security presence and extra-onerous voting procedures for villages and precincts that historically voted HDP. Fewer votes from these places will also mean fewer votes for the HDP’s presidential candidate (Selahattin Demirtas). Remote Kurdish villages and towns also usually see few election monitors, which in turn allows ballot box-stuffing and similar sorts of fraud. 

If I were an election monitor in Turkey this time around, I would therefore head to the southeast on June 24.

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


pre-Boomer Marine brat | 13/6/2018
"electoral shenanigans" -- I can easily imagine Frank Sinatra singing "Chicago, Chicago!" -- Are you aware that there is reason to suspect that the Nixon-Kennedy election was finally "won" there?
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