Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 140

On July 19 Turkish newspapers published extensive pre-election data from the KONDA polling firm (Radikal, July 19). Based on nine surveys of more than 25,000 people conducted between February 15 and July, the results indicate that the ruling AK Party will likely form another majority government following the Sunday, July 22, elections. Not counting undecided voters (at a very high 11%), the AK Party is expected to secure 310-340 deputies (42.6% of the popular vote), enough to form the next Turkish government on its own. The AK Party is viewed as a moderate, somewhat right-of-center Islamic party that draws much of its support from religiously conservative, poorer people in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey. The AK Party rejects the label of “Islamist,” however, claiming that it only advocates freedom of religion, including the freedom to be religious.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) expects to take second place in the election, with 100-120 deputies (17.3% of the vote). This slightly left-of-center party focuses on casting itself as the principal bearer of the principles of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The core “Kemalist” ideals center on secularism, a general Western orientation, and a unitary state based on Turkish identity. The CHP advocates continued efforts to join the European Union, although it accuses Western states of trying to foment a minority rights problem, and more specifically a “Kurdish problem,” in Turkey (Today’s Zaman, July 14).

The third party expected to enter parliament on July 22 is the National Action Party (MHP). The far-right, nationalist MHP will likely come away with at least 70-90 deputies (12.5% of the vote). Like the CHP Party, the MHP denies that there are any minorities in Turkey apart from the non-Muslim minorities recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne (Today’s Zaman, July 14). The party focuses its election discourse on security, and advocates a Turkish military intervention into northern Iraq (New Anatolian, July 13-19). The MHP has also come out against the European Union ascension reforms, particularly resenting EU requirements on minority rights. The MHP’s election slogan for television ads is: “To separatists, to terror, to the world, just one answer suffices – MHP.”

Unlike the last general elections of 2002, a number of independent candidates are running in the July 22 poll and are expected to win 25-35 seats in the new parliament. Most of these candidates come from the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (DTP). The DTP decided to run its candidates as independents in order to circumvent a new election measure that prevented them from electing any representatives in 2002. Turkey has implemented a 10% nation-wide threshold that political parties must surmount in order to enter parliament. Because of this law, the AK Party, the CHP, and the MHP are the only parties expected to enter parliament in 2007. The votes of parties that fail to pass this threshold are distributed proportionally among the parties that did successfully pass the 10% benchmark. The intended effect of the 10% requirement, which has been widely criticized as anti-democratic, was to encourage the formation of a more stable political system based on fewer parties, and to shut out the pro-Kurdish parties from the southeast of the country. The proportional distribution of “lost votes” in 2002 allowed the AK Party to get many more deputies than its actual votes warranted and to form Turkey’s first majority government in decades.

When they decided upon the 10% election threshold, the established Turkish secular parties and the Turkish military did not expect the Islamist AK Party to be the lead party in 2002. With a new majority government, the AK Party was able to begin slowly challenging Turkey’s secular political system, as well as the military’s role in politics. The AK Party framed much of its democratization project as reforms intended to satisfy EU ascension criteria, effectively using the EU process as a weapon against its domestic opponents. At the same time that some Turkish generals alluded to the possibility of a coup, working toward the “EU reforms” garnered more popularity for the AK Party, including among Kurds in the southeast of the country. The July 22 elections were moved up from the previously scheduled fall 2007 election date when the AK Party tried to place one of its own, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, into the presidency. The secular Turkish establishment, particularly the military, feared that controlling a majority government, the Prime Minister’s office, and the Presidency would allow the AK Party to change Turkish Constitutional provisions regarding secularism. The resulting political crisis over other parties’ successful efforts to block Abdullah Gul’s ascendancy to the presidency on various procedural technicalities precipitated the early vote.

If the elections result in another AK Party majority government, as they seem likely to do, the crisis over the presidency will continue. Additionally, the new parliament seems poised to contain both a larger far-right MHP Party opposite a significant number of independent Kurdish deputies, whose election platforms focus on minority rights and further democratization. Hence the new Turkish parliament risks being either very discordant or short-lived.