The General Election in Turkey will take place this coming Sunday, 22 July. It has been hyped up as being the most important ever election as Turkey as the strategic position of Turkey becomes increasingly important to Western powers, with Turkey sharing a border with Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Bunting and posters fill the cities. Party vans blare their martial party songs. The squares and hubs are full of canvassers. One point that initially confused me was that all the parties except the AK Justice and Development Party, whose colours are white, orange and blue, use the colour of the Turkish flag, red, and symbols that echo the crescent and stars of the flag. Thus lots of red flags and posters, and lots of stars and crescents.
At the moment it looks as if the ruling AK Justice and Development Party will get up to 40% of the votes, and this may be enough for them to form a government, with a majority of seats in parliament, 276. The voting system is one of a regional list of candıdates, where candidates are elected from a list provided by the party according to the proportion of votes they receive in that region. But parties must pass a threshold of 10% of all votes cast nationally in order to be represented in parliament. The AK Party has been cashing in on its successful management of the economy over the last four and a half years, with an average growth rate of over 6% per year, the desire of the electorate to have a stable strong government, avoiding weak alliances which have been disastrous in the past, particularly in the case of the 1999 government, which failed to prevent a stock market crash and a rapid fall in the value of the Turkish lira, and its popularity amongst the poorer classes, who have benefitted from welfare aid and fuel allowances. The AK Party has an Islamic origin, being the offshoot of the banned Virtue Party, and its leader Recip Erdoğan, spent a brief spell in jail in September 1998 when Mayor of Istanbul for “inciting armed fundamentalist rebellion” when he quoted a poem of Zıya Gökalp, ironically one of the intellectual mentors of the Republic: “The mosques are our barracks, the minarets our baynets, the domes our helmets, and the believers our soldiers…”. Erdoğan gained great credit for metaphorically cleaning up Istanbul, and the AK Party draws much of its support from the urban poor, Islamic groups, but more and more from the middle-classes who have done very well in the last four and a half years.
Its critics say that it has a hidden Islamic agenda, and they point to the fact that a number of AK Party mayors have attempted to restrict alcohol sales and introduce segregated schools, according to Islamic principles. Primers used in schools have also put an Islamic slant on traditional Western stories.
The CHP, the Republican People’s Party, which should be the next largest party, with some 22-25% of the vote, is the party founded by Atatürk, and which held power from the founding of the Republic in 1923 until 1950. It is staunchly Kemalist, following the precepts of the state founded by Atatürk, which means that it is secularist; nationalist, statist, republican, and populist, in the sense of promoting equal rights for women. Indeed, Turkey was one of the first countries in the world to give the vote to women. The Republican Party secularized education and all public institutions in Turkey, prohibiting the use of religious symbols such as headscarves in educational institutions. It is traditionally the party of the government bureaucracy, the army and teachers.
The next largest party should the MHP National Movement Party, populist, secular and right-wing, with a paramilitary youth wing. It emphasizes the values of “Turkishness”, and is highly suspicious of Turkey’s attempts to join the EU, believing that this will result in a loss of Turkish sovereignty. It is also wary of apparent European support for greater Kurdish independence. The Kurds should see themselves as Turks and participate in the Turkish state. Its share of the vote in recent polls has increased due to renewed problems in Kurdish areas and the killing of Turkish soldiers by the illegal Kurdish PKK paramilitary group.
The MHP may reach the threshold of 10%. If it does so, and the AK Party’s share of the vote is lower than expected, a coalition government may be formed between the CHP and the MHP. And here there may be an ironic sequel as this secular alliance of non-religious parties would be much less keen on accession to the EU than the pro-Europe Islamic-based AK Party, for whom EU it has been a central part of their agenda. Indeed, the leader of the Socialist group in the EU, Jan Marinus Wiersma, favours an AK victory.
Other parties, of which there are a large number, will probably not reach the 10% threshold in order to qualify for parliamentary representation. However, there will be a large number of Independent candidates, for whom this threshold is not valid. In Kurdish regions candidates representing Kurdish parties are standing as independents.