A close look at voting patterns in the July 22 Turkish general election suggests that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has broadened its electoral base while retaining its grassroots support among lower-income groups and the more conservative sections of society.
Yesterday, July 30, the Turkish Supreme Electoral Board announced the official results of the July 22 election. The AK Party finished first with 46.5% of the vote and 341 seats in Turkey’s 550-member unicameral parliament, ahead of the Republican Populist Party (CHP) with 20.8% and 112 seats and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) with 14.3% and 70 seats. Another 26 seats were won by independents, including 23 former members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). One seat remains vacant following the death of a deputy from the MHP on July 26 (NTV, July 30).
In the run up to the elections the AK Party repeatedly attempted to shake off its Islamist image and portray itself as a party of the center-right (Today’s Zaman, July 18). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to allow 20 hard-line Islamist MPs who had won seats in the 2002 elections to run as AK Party candidates in the July 22 elections. He also included a number of prominent liberals, and even former leftists, in the party’s candidate list. Most were elected on July 22 and several are expected to be named as ministers when the new AK Party government is announced in early August (Turkish Daily News, July 24).
However, most of the hard-line Islamist MPs excluded from the AK Party’s slate had publicly criticized what they regarded as Erdogan’s “authoritarian” style of leadership, Many other equally hard-line AK Party deputies who chose not to criticize Erdogan were allowed to stand for reelection (Milliyet, June 7). Most decisions within the AK Party are taken by Erdogan himself in consultation with an inner court of advisors and prominent ministers. The expectation is that, even if there are new faces in the Council of Ministers, the decision-making core of the AK Party will remain unchanged (Milliyet, July 25).
Public opinion polls conducted in the run-up to the July 22 election suggest that the AK Party retained its traditional grassroots support while also attracting new supporters who had previously voted for nationalist or center-right parties, primarily as a result of the party’s record since winning the November 2002 election (Radikal, July 26). In a survey conducted by the A&G research company on July 7-8, 75.8% of those who said that they would vote for the AK Party cited its record in power as one of the main reasons, compared with 51.4% who said it was because they felt an ideological affinity with the party (Milliyet, July 27).
The surveys also underlined the demographic factors behind the AK Party’s electoral success. Some 57.7% of respondents with only elementary school education indicated that they would vote for the AK Party, compared with 45.2% of those with high school education and 31.6% of university graduates. In contrast, 39.8% percent of university graduates indicated that they would vote for the CHP, compared with 22.1% of high school graduates and 13.6% of those with only elementary school education.
The disparities were even more striking when voting preferences were analyzed on the basis of income. Approximately 55% of those who earned less than $250 a month said that they would vote for the AK Party, falling to 23% for those who earned more than $2,500 a month. The CHP secured the support of just 8% of those earning less $250 a month but of 50% of those who earned more than $2,500 (Radikal, July 26).
Although the AK Party has tried to shake off its Islamist image, it appears to have retained the support of Islamists who voted for it in 2002. The only other party in Turkey that is perceived as having an Islamist agenda is the Felicity Party (SP), which is led by former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan. According to the official results of the July 22 elections, the SP won 2.3% of the vote, down from 2.5% in November 2002.
Although there is no reason to suspect that it is preparing to introduce a radical Islamist agenda, since its landslide election victory the AK Party has been less circumspect when it comes to playing down its Islamist credentials. On July 30, Kursad Tuzmen, the current state minister responsible for Foreign Trade, who is expected to retain his position in the new Council of Ministers, told a meeting of Turkish exporters that Turkey would soon sign preferential trade agreements with what he described as “18 Islamic countries” (Milliyet, July 31). Tuzmen said that Turkish officials had been working on the agreements for five years and expected them to be signed in September (Turkish Daily News, July 31). Not only would the agreements appear to be ideologically motivated, but they would also violate the terms of Turkey’s 1995 Customs Union Agreement with the EU, which came into force on January 1, 1996, and forbids Turkey from extending preferential trading status to any country with which the EU does not have a similar agreement.