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Erdogan’s Continued Dominance over Turkish Politics

26 June 2018

The outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey has many significances and implications on the future of Turkey’s political landscape which has already adopted the presidential system, after years of parliamentary system introduced by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in 1923. This led some analysts to describe the current stage in Turkey as the beginning of the Second Republic-era under the presidential system.

Results of the presidential and parliamentary elections

The turnout in the presidential and parliamentary elections was approximately 87% of around 59.354 million Turkish voters. The results are as follows: 

With regard to the presidential election, the candidate of the People’s Alliance (AKP and MHP), President Erdogan won a second presidential term, securing 52.5% of the votes, with about 26 million votes. Erdogan commanded the majority in 63 out of the 81 Turkish provinces. On the other hand, Muharrem Ince, candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP)-the largest opposition party- ranked second by 30.7%, with 15.2 million votes, gaining the majority in 8 out of the 81 Turkish provinces, most of which are located in the Western European section of Turkey. 

Selahattin Demirtaş, candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), ranked third by 8.3%, with about 4 million votes. He achieved majority in 10 Turkish states, most of which are the Kurdish-majority states in southeastern Turkey. Meral Akşener, candidate of the Good Party or (İYİ Party), ranked fourth by 7.3%, with 3.6 million votes. She did not achieve a majority in any Turkish state. The candidate of the Felicity Party, conservative Islamic party, Karamollaoğlu ranked second to last, with 439 thousand votes. The left-wing Patriotic Party’s candidate, Dogu Perincek, ranked last with 97 thousand votes.

As for the parliamentary elections, the People’s Alliance, comprising the ruling AKP (conservative) and the MHP (nationalist-rightist) achieved a parliamentary majority of 343 out of the 600 seats, with 53.6% of the electorate votes. The AKP accounted for 42.49% and 293 MPs, while the MHP accounted for 11.13%, or about 50 MPs.

The Nation Alliance, which includes the CHP (secular-leftist), the Good Party (nationalist-rightist which defected from the MHP) and the Felicity party (Islamic-conservative), ranked second with 34.1% of votes and 190 seats. The CHP secured 22.7% (146 seats), while the Good party gained 10.01% (44 seats). The Felicity Party did not get any seats, ranking last with 1.35%. The HDP, which is running for elections alone without any electoral alliances, obtained 11.6% of votes and 67 seats, ranked third in the elections in general after the AKP and the CHP.

Significances of election results

The outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey has several significances, at the forefront of which are the following: 

1- Turkish President Erdogan has maintained his popularity at home. This was evident in as he won the majority in 63 out of the 81 Turkish provinces, despite recurrent criticism against his internal and external policies, especially since the failed military coup in July 2016. This may be attributed to the fact that many of Turkey’s achievements in the economic field have been linked to Erdogan, who has been ruling Turkey since 2003.

2- The AKP’s popularity declined by 7% and lost the parliamentary majority. The party obtained 42.4% in the recent election compared to 49.9% in the previous elections in November 2015. Although the number of seats has increased from 550 to 600 in the current parliament, its seats in parliament has declined from 316 to 293.

Although the AKP has lost the parliamentary majority, this will not impact the composition and form of the next government. Under the presidential system, the new president has the sole right to appoint and dismiss ministers without complying to the winning party of the parliamentary majority, and the government does not have to get the confidence of parliament as it has automatically secured the confidence of the president, who gained the trust of people directly in the election.

3- The CHP’s popularity dropped by 2.5%, having secured 22.7% of the votes in the recent elections compared to 25.3% of the votes in the previous elections. On the other hand, the party was able to increase its seats to 146 compared to 131 seats in the previous parliament, benefiting from the proportional representation system and the increase in the number of parliament seats.

4- The MHP maintained its voting bloc, securing 11.15%, which is close to that obtained in the November 2015 elections (11.9%), which contradicts many expectations that the party could have failed to exceed the 10% threshold, after the defection of several members who formed the Good Party led by Meral Akşener, prompting the former to forge alliance with the AKP for fear of failure to enter the parliament. The MHP has even succeeded in increasing its seats to 49 seats from 35 seats in the previous parliament. The Good party led by Meral Akşener managed to exceed the electoral threshold by obtaining 10.01% and 44 seats despite being a nascent party. The votes obtained by the party were detracted from the votes of the AKP, which lost 7% of its votes compared to the previous election, and the CHP whose votes also declined by 2.5%.

6- The HDP increased its votes to 11.5% compared to 10.7% in the previous election, and its seats to 67 seats compared to 59 seats in the previous parliament, despite the blows it suffered under the AKP government in the hope of weakening it. Its leader and the presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, has been detained for a year and a half on charges of supporting terrorism. He was campaigning from prison via voice messages. In addition to arresting 13 MPs of the party, it was affected by the confrontations between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish gunmen.

7- The Felicity party, an Islamic conservative, failed to secure any significant achievement in the recent election. Although it betted during the pre-election period on taking votes from the AKP and its candidate Erdogan, exploiting the common ideological factor because it represents an extension of the spiritual leader of the political Islam movement in Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan, the conservative Turkish voters seemed to prefer the modern version of political Islam, as represented by the AKP and its leader Erdogan.

Reasons behind Erdogan’s victory and the opposition’s loss

The fact that Erdogan’s won a new presidential term and the People’s Alliance, led by the AKP lead the parliamentary majority can be attributed to set of factors, foremost among which are: 

1- Turkish opposition parties failed to agree on a single presidential candidate vs Erdogan, splitting the opposition between Islamic, nationalist, secularist and Kurdish candidates, enabling Erdogan to win the presidential election from the first round.

2- Ideological heterogeneity of opposition parties under the Nation Alliance undermined their credibility among many Turkish voters. The secular CHP made alliance with the Islamic conservative Felicity party. And while the HDP adopts leftist orientations and defends the rights of Kurds, the Good party espouses rightist and nationalist anti-Kurdish orientations.

3- Erdogan and the AKP have secured the biggest number of the nationalist, rightist and Islamic conservative votes, particularly the Kurdish ones. Erdogan was able to do so after garnering the support of the Great Unity Party, which has 18 members on the AKP lists, headed by the party’s leader Mustafa Destici, and the declaration of the Free Cause Party (Kurdish-Islamic conservative)- the political wing of the Kurdish Hezbollah, one of the main rivals of the Kurdish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey- its support for President Erdogan in the elections, which has secured a percentage of conservative Islamic Kurdish votes for Erdogan and his party.

4- Erdogan’s success in employing and exploiting the escalation against the Kurds to secure the biggest number of nationalist votes to his advantage, both internally, by continuing military operations against the PKK, or externally, by using the Turkish army to drive Kurdish militants out of the Syrian city of Afrin last March and take control over it, as well his continuous threats to launch a military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

5- Erdogan and the AKP have succeeded in minimizing the negative effects of the recent economic crises on election outcome, by promoting the idea of foreign conspiracy with the aim of targeting the Turkish economy and influencing the voters in the upcoming elections. In one of his speeches in May, Erdogan described the drop in the Lira as the latest plot to overthrow him from power. Moreover, several Turkish officials promoted the existence of a conspiracy to spread negative perceptions of Turkish markets, in the run-up to the Turkish elections to confuse voters and push them to abstain from voting for the AKP.

6- Erdogan and the AKP government espoused populist policies toward the Palestinian cause, which had a positive impact on the Turkish electorate, on top of which was the Turkish stance rejecting the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, recalling the Turkish ambassador in the US for consultation, Erdogan’s escalation against Israel accusing it of committing a massacre after repeated attacks on Palestinians on the Gaza border, the Turkish government’s request to Israel’s ambassador to leave and summoning its ambassador from Tel Aviv, as well as Erdogan’s presiding over the recent extraordinary meetings of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the Palestinian issue.

In conclusion, by declaring Erdogan and the AKP win in the first presidential and parliamentary elections under the new presidential system, Turkey enters a new era in which Erdogan wields more executive powers that allow him to continue dominating state institutions and decision-making process in Turkey.  Erdogan now has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers without consulting the parliament, issuing decrees concerning his powers and preparing the annual budget of the state. Erdogan and his party’s victory in the election will encourage him to press ahead in his regional policy towards further involvement in Syria and Iraq, to confront Kurdish threats, to continue to support political Islam movements in the region, and bolster Turkey’s positions in support of Qatar vs the Arab Quartet.