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Turkey’s election: ‘Practically impossible to call’

June 1, 2015
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Campaign banners for the AKP, the ruling party, whose symbol is the light bulb, are displayed in Instanbul.  (Credit: Christiane Gruber)

Campaign banners for the AKP, the ruling party, whose symbol is the light bulb, are displayed in Instanbul. (Credit: Christiane Gruber)

Turkey’s parliamentary elections will be held June 7 amid a weakening economy and concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming too powerful and authoritarian.

Erdogan is hoping the vote will give him the super majority he needs to change the constitution, converting Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Under the plan, Erdogan would control the executive branch.

Erdem Cipa, an assistant professor of history and Near Eastern studies at the University of Michigan, will be in Turkey throughout the summer, observing the election and its aftermath. He shared his thoughts about the vote:

Erdem Cipa stands near a police line in Instabul's Taksim Square during the Gezi Park anti-government protests in 2013.

Erdem Cipa stands near a police line in Instabul’s Taksim Square during the Gezi Park anti-government protests in 2013.

Q: What are the major issues in the election?

Cipa: The major factors which will determine the outcome of the elections will be the slowing economy; rising inequality in income distribution; ongoing corruption and wasteful spending at the highest levels of the Turkish political structure; and increasingly anti-democratic policies limiting freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Q: What are the chances the opposition will gain ground in this vote?

Cipa: I think one major political factor that will determine the outcome of the elections will be the success of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP, Halklarin Demokratik Partisi), a pro-Kurdish, left-wing party. The party’s representatives are campaigning by using a rhetoric—similar to the one employed by Syriza in Greece—against neoliberal economic policies, and defending workers’ rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a certain degree of decentralized self-governance at the local/regional level. It looks like they are gaining traction. If HDP manages to surmount the obstacle of the anti-democratic 10 percent threshold, it will diminish the power of the ruling party significantly, possibly even forcing a coalition government.

Q: What role has Erdogan played in the election?

Cipa: President Erdogan’s role in these elections has been called “controversial,” although it is simply unconstitutional and thus illegal. In Turkey, the office of the president is not part of the party system and the president is expected to remain neutral in elections. Erdogan is the first president who campaigned actively for a political party, going against all political traditions, not to mention the Turkish constitution.

A poster of Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leader of the HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party). The slogan above him is directed toward President Erdogan and says, "We won't make you president!"

A poster of Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leader of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). The slogan above him is directed toward President Erdogan and says, “We won’t make you president!”

According to the latest polls, the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as AKP in Turkish, still has 40 percent of the votes, which may or may not give it a simple majority in the parliament, depending on the success of the remaining parties, especially on whether HDP receives more than 10 percent of the vote. Again, according to the latest polls, the vote of the HDP is within the margin of error, at 9.8 percent to 11.4 percent. Therefore, this election is practically impossible to call, a first in the last decade. One thing’s for sure, however: The opposition is going to do significantly better in comparison to the previous elections.

Q: How big of a concern is election fraud?

Cipa: Turkey does not have an unblemished record when it comes to voting security. Cheating, stealing, etc. have been major concerns in earlier elections, prompting numerous civil rights organizations to take an increasingly active role in protecting the nation’s votes on election day.

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