Monday, 13 June 2011

Turkish Election - Notes from the Field Part 2

The results of Sunday's election were more or less expected, but still held a few surprises. Everybody anticipated that the ruling AKP would sweep to victory - the only question was whether it would win enough seats to send a new constitution to a referendum, or whether it could create a new constitution unilaterally. Many expected that the nationalist MHP would struggle to muster the 10% needed to enter Parliament after a string of sex-tape scandals and defections. And the vigorous efforts of the AKP and the main opposition CHP to court Kurdish voters in the south-east was expected to damage the chances of candidates backed by the mainly Kurdish BDP.

In the event, most predictions were off the mark. The AKP won another major victory, securing 50%, an increase of 4% from 2007. But dueto new constituency boundaries, it fell just short of the 330 seats needed to send a new constitution to a referendum.

The CHP, for its part, increased its share of the vote under new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, but there was disappointment among many CHP voters and party members that they did not reach the 30% which Kılıçdaroğlu had set as a target. Hurriyet reports that the poor showing may lead to questions about Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership among the CHP top brass, only a year after he became head of the party. CHP infighting would weaken the party's plan to be a strong, active opposition as the AKP seeks to consolidate its power.

The MHP gave perhaps the biggest surprise of the night. Despite being soundly beaten in many key provinces including Osmaniye, the home province of MHP boss Devlet Bahçeli, the party gathered 13% of the vote overall, more than predicted. Safely in Parliament, the MHP will likely play a key role in the upcoming horse-trading over the AKP's new constitution.

Pro-Kurdish candidates, many of whom were standing as independents to avoid the 10% threshold, also had a strong showing in the south-east. The provinces  of Mardin, Batman, and Van - all held by the AKP in 2007 - were captured by independents. This suggests that despite fitful efforts by the AKP to court Kurds, Kurdish nationalism is more entrenched than optimists had been predicting.

So there will be plenty of wrangling ahead as the AKP seeks to secure four opposition votes in order to send its new constitution to the people. As Robert Tait at RFE/RL notes, this will leave Prime Minister Erdoğan in the unusual position of compromising and negotiating. This is hardly his strong point, and given his fiery and vitrolic attacks on the other candidates during the campaign, he may find that attempts to secure their cooperation will be met with a cool response.

Perhaps aware that he needs to back down, the Prime Minister has been stressing the need for conciliation in his post-election speeches, suggesting that "remarks voiced at election rallies should remain there and all political parties and leaders should engage in cooperation for the future of this nation".

The result was met with a fairly cool indifference among many on the streets of Istanbul. "I didn't vote for Erdoğan but I don't think he will be a problem", said Mehmet, a retired man fishing on the Galata Bridge. On one of the ferries crossing the Bosphorus on Sunday evening, travellers watched the results coming in on TV screens without much excitement. One young man said that "I don't really care about the constitution, I just want to know: will AKP fix the economy? Will they make jobs?"

More to come on the post-election environment in the coming days.

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