Apparently impatient for the full implementation of a presidential system in Turkey, President Erdogan this week made a surprise call for snap elections in June. Assuming the AKP and Erdogan win the election, the post of Prime Minister will be abolished and President Erdogan will assume even more total control over Turkey for the next ten years. Members of Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) held a standing ovation for Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in parliament, hailing his as “Turkey’s last Prime Minister” — as if there was no doubt about the outcome of the elections.
There should not, in fact, be much doubt about the election’s outcome. As Howard Eissenstat in the Washington Post observed, “The 2018 election in Turkey will be held under a state of emergency, which began after the 2016 attempted coup. As in the April 2017 referendum, opposition rallies will likely be harassed, state resources will be levied in support of the ruling party, and blanket pro-government coverage will dominate a compliant media.”
As per changes pushed through during previous balloting, when it looked like the AKP might not get what it wanted from voters, Turkey’s High Electoral Board will now accept unstamped/unverified ballots. Electoral commission staff drawn from AKP loyalists will supervise ballot counting, rather than representatives from all political parties [as was the case in the past].
Meanwhile, opposition parties such as Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s Republic People’s Party (CHP) and the fascist National Movement Party (MHP) continue to fail to expand their voting base. The Kurdish-majority People’s Democracy Party (HDP) saw many of its parliamentarians and leaders imprisoned during the last two years, including the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas.
President Erdogan is also riding a nationalist fervor from Turkey’s conquest of Afrin in Syria. The tumbling value of the Turkish lira has not reached such dire lows yet as to alienate many AKP voters either, for whom Mr. Erdogan’s testy rhetoric against America and European countries holds much appeal.
The only possible fly in Mr. Erdogan’s electoral ointment, however, may come from a splinter of the MHP party. Somewhat amusingly named the “Good Party” (Iyi Partisi), this splinter party appeals to the same extreme nationalist elements that vote MHP or, in lesser numbers, AKP. The difference is that the Good Party’s leader (Meral Aksener), unlike Devlet Bahceli of the MHP, has a fair bit of charisma and zero willingness to work for Erdogan as a junior coalition partner in government (as the MHP is currently doing).
It seems quite possible that enough far-right voters will defect from the MHP to the Good Party to deny the MHP the minimum 10-percent threshold it needs to gain seats in parliament. If the AKP fails to gain a parliamentary majority at the same time, this would leave the AKP with no willing coalition partners in the other parties likely to gain seats in the election (the CHP, the HDP and the Good Party, in that order). If unable to form a government, the other parties would normally get a chance to do so — or new elections would need to be called as occurred in 2015. In either case, Mr. Erdogan’s transition to full presidential power would be placed in jeopardy.
Only those of us interested in or yearning for dramatic electoral contests make such speculations seriously, however. The truth of the matter is that one way or another, the AKP will get its majority in June. As Eissenstat perceptively puts it, “Erdogan may not need to cheat to win the 2018 election — but if he needs to, he will.” In such circumstances, boycott and abstention may prove a better option for Turkey’s dissidents. Playing such a rigged game only legitimizes Mr. Erdogan’s electoral authoritarianism.
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.