The 2015 parliamentary contest took place on Sunday and public debate over the election results have been going on for the past couple of days. On June 7, the number of votes that the Republican People's Party (CHP) received remained largely the same while popular support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was up by a few points. The election results indicate that the Turkish people are not looking for a strong alternative to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which undertook major public projects and made historic steps to ensure economic growth and strengthen the welfare regime. Had the people been unsure about the ruling party's social and economic policies, then they would have thrown their weight behind the CHP, which identified an entirely different set of priorities. Meanwhile, the MHP's growing popularity mainly stems from the people's tendency to seek a safe haven when the political landscape appears shaky. As such, the party's four-point increase seems reasonable.
The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on the other hand, made a breakthrough in Sunday's elections. For the record, the Kurds did not constitute the party's entire base. Nor did all Kurdish voters support the HDP, considering that a large chunk of the constituency picked the AK Party over the Kurdish political movement. What the HDP undoubtedly accomplished, however, has been to deny the incumbent AK Party the opportunity of forming a single-party government for a fourth consecutive term. As such, it would appear that the Turkish people are looking for an alternative to the opposition parties as opposed to the Justice and Development Party.
At least since the 2010 constitutional referendum, elected governments in Turkey have gained the ability to actually preside over the nation's affairs. These amendments to the 1982 Constitution, however, have only partially changed the constitutional order to eliminate checks and balances on the government. Surely enough, the judiciary has performed its tasks quite well. Both the ruling party and the opposition, as a matter of fact, praised the Constitutional Court's performance over the past couple of years, which means that the main problem lies with political, as opposed to judicial, checks and balances.
The Gülen Movement's political maneuvers to use the justice system as an instrument to take down the elected government in December 2013 failed to yield any results. Meanwhile, the government's unwillingness to send a handful of ministers who were accused of corruption to face justice did not sit well with the Turkish people. In this particular case, procedure dictated that political checks and balances ought to pave the way to judicial oversight. In other words, people expected Parliament to compel the above-mentioned ministers to stand trial, which, in the end, did not happen. At the same time, legislative proceedings have become less transparent as omnibus bills chipped away at Parliament's powers. The legislative branch, in other words, turned into a mechanism geared toward meeting the political leadership's daily needs.
And there is no denying that the vast majority of the above-mentioned problems stemmed from design flaws in Turkey's constitutional regime. Following the 2011 general elections, major political parties failed to seize the historic opportunity to draft a new constitution, betraying the people's trust. In light of the ruling party's failure to create a more democratic constitutional order, the people had to choose between a single-party government with no checks and balances and a coalition government with no ability to move forward.
On June 7, the people of Turkey voiced their concerns over the political system by pulling the hand brake. While reaffirming the AK Party's position as the uncontested winner of the election, they stripped the incumbents of their majority in Parliament. To be clear, the ballot box was the only instrument available to the millions of voters and they used this tool wisely. Now we will have to wait for all political parties to come to terms with the populace's wisdom.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.