Last Sunday's elections were a result that sent shock waves throughout not only Turkey, but the world. It was a foregone conclusion that the AK Party would win, and win they did. But they did not win a large enough percentage to secure a majority in Parliament.
However, despite the fact that many Western media outlets are crowing that this is the worst the AK Party has ever done, that this is the beginning of the end, that this was a slap in the face to the "sultan," or even that Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (the Egyptian sultan who recaptured Palestine) had been brought to a sharp stop, the garnering of 41 percent of the Turkish votes is no mean feat. It is certainly more than what the Conservatives got in the last British elections, and compared to the "record high" turnout in that election (66 percent), the 86 percent turnout last Sunday demonstrates just how healthy democracy is in Turkey. And this is no "record low" for AK Party; their entrance into Parliament occurred in 2002 with only 34.2 percent of the vote, and in 2009 they received only 38.9 percent of the vote. The difference was not that less people voted for AK Party, but rather that the HDP passed the threshold; i.e. the fact that there are now four parties sharing the parliamentary seats rather than the customary three. When the pie is divided up into more pieces, everyone gets less and the result is a coalition.
There are a couple of points that foreign media outlets have harped on which are worthwhile examining here. The idea that a "dictator" has been stopped in his tracks, or a "sultan" has been slapped in the face is one of them. If Erdoğan was a dictator, would fair and transparent elections have occurred? And would he have allowed the AK Party to get only 41 percent of the vote? Dictators, everyone knows, get 99.9 percent of the vote with 100 percent turnout.
And has he been "stopped in his tracks?" Erdoğan is the elected president of Turkey and has another four years to serve. Perhaps he will be working with a coalition; perhaps there will be policies that he won't be fond of. As president the current constitution has given him wide-ranging rights; one of these is the right to comment on, criticize or veto laws proposed by the Parliament.
In addition, this "dictator" has said, as quoted again in a number of papers, that he has respect for the choices the people made. Erdoğan also stated that the high turnout demonstrates the people's determination to continue in the democratic process.
An odd thing here is something the opposition parties have confessed… loaner votes.; i.e. Tactical voting. The HDP has said that they received "loaner votes," while the CHP has confessed to giving "loaner votes." That is, the reason why the AK Party did not receive a majority of seats is not because it got 41 percent of the vote; it is pure and simply due to the fact that the HDP got over 13 percent of the votes, pushing it over the threshold. And the votes that did this were "loaned" to them. CHP voters agreed to vote for the HDP to ensure they got in. On Sunday families were overheard divvying up the votes among them, the younger generation voting for the HDP, the older for the CHP. In Kadıköy, a diehard Kemalist stronghold, people have become accustomed over the years to the number of CHP votes that emerge from the ballot boxes. In a school where the electoral average is 200 votes for the CHP out of approximately 350 votes per ballot box, the highest number of CHP votes emerging last Sunday was 150, while the HDP averaged 50 per ballot box. So, one question that should be asked is if there is to be another election in 45 days will these loans be called in?
Another thing which is harped upon in the newspapers is that this was a clear message to President Erdoğan that the public did not want the presidential system that both the AK Party and the president have discussed a great deal lately.
It is as if the media thinks all the 50 million voters in Turkey got together and huddled in a corner (perhaps somewhere in the southeast). "OK" they said - "We want the AK Party to continue to govern, but we don't want the presidential system. How can we get this message across? Ahmet, you and your guys vote CHP – right that's 25 percent. Mehmet, your lot vote MHP – that's 18 percent... Mustafa, you chaps should give your votes to the HDP so they can get past the threshold. Then we can destroy the AK Party's absolute majority and they will get the message." To say the least, this isn't very feasible.
Moreover, this message actually is not as clear as the media would have us believe. What is clear is that the reality of the situation was so obscured by both the foreign and local press claiming that Erdoğan wanted to introduce a system in which he would remain "president for life" that people were too confused by it to vote one way or another. What is much more likely is that people who had supported the AK Party because of their economic performance, people who had supported Erdoğan as president (52 percent) did not support the party this time round due to a number of reasons; mud had been slung about corruption, although nothing has ever proven. More mud had been slung about the life-long presidency. In addition, the slow-down in the economy, retirement pensions and the minimum wage were all factors which had a negative effect. The real AK Party supporters – 41 percent at the present time – voted for the party they wanted to lead the country.
When talking about the presidential system there are a couple of points that need to be remembered. The presidential system has been on the agenda for 30 years or more; the impetus behind the desire to bring in such a system is primarily due to the fact that in the current system the president has too many powers. Also, the judiciary is able to impede laws from being introduced. In short, when parliament wants to pass the laws it has the double hurdle of getting past the president and then the judiciary. There is no one legislative power that is independent of the executive or judiciary. The impetus to introduce the presidential system is, as so often reiterated by Erdoğan, the separation of powers. However, the media, foreign and local, turn deaf ears to this.
Another reason why there is a "need" for a presidential system, why people like Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel, both past presidents of Turkey, tried to introduce such a system, is that it will ensure that the deadlock created by coalition governments will be avoided. The president can be from one party and the legislature from another (or others), but government will continue. Erdoğan's own son expressed it well: "It is a system that is needed not when we have Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but one that is needed for when he isn't around." That is, while there is a strong leader, the system can function, but without such a leader it is doomed to deadlock.
A presidential system is one which gives quicker results than parliamentarian systems and one that creates solutions. However, according to Associate Professor Mümtazer Türköne, a well-known Gülenist, (http://www.canlihaber.com/baskanlik-sistemi-nedir-artilari-ve-eksileri-neler-61922h.htm): "The presidential system can never work in Turkey…." He claims this is because "they" (I think he means the AK Party) do not know what this system is and how "they" will introduce a system that they know nothing about? This is laughable. We are talking about a major government with advisers, think tanks and, yes, even ministries. Is it really possible that someone woke up one day and said "Hey, let's introduce a presidential system!" "OK…but wait, what is a presidential system?" "Dunno…let's look it up on Wikipedia…cool! That looks like it will work..."
After demonstrating his contempt for the government of his country the good professor goes on to say "The presidential system creates a strong executive, but it gives neither the legislative or judicial branches to the executive. Quite the opposite, the three branches are separated along very clear lines. The majority government is stronger in a parliamentary system than it is in a presidential one, as those who win the election control both the executive and the legislative." So, the professor has just laid out for us what the AK Party and Erdoğan want. They want to put an end to the fear that Turkey is facing today… a coalition that cannot and will not work together and no clear separation of powers.
A coalition in Turkey could feasibly be the AK Party and the MHP. The MHP is a strongly nationalist party; however, they have limited experience in government, and their nationalist stance may cause some serious issues. It is pretty unlikely that the HDP will want to enter a coalition with the AK Party, and the CHP and AK Party, although looking feasible, is la coalition of parties that are poles apart . It is just possible that the CHP, MHP and HDP will try to form a coalition, but the MHP nationalistic stance does not gel with the Kurdish party's policies, thus making it pretty clear that this will not work. And as far as the CHP and HDP are concerned, it is one thing to loan someone your votes; it is quite another thing to share the nation's cabinet with them.
The HDP loaded every good cause onto their platform to try to get more votes. The Kurdish issue would not have been enough to get them past the threshold. They added environmental issues, women's rights and LGBT issues. All good causes, don't get me wrong. But women's rights in Turkey are actually pretty good…at least, the legislation is in place. Yet it takes time for these things to be solved on a cultural level. When one HDP campaigner tried to hand me a brochure the other day, saying "Do you want to be free" I thanked him, commenting that I was already free, but appreciated his concern for me.
The other day someone was speaking to me about LGBT rights. "What rights are you concerned with" I asked. "The right to life…." No one in the AK Party government would deny that all people have the right to life, and that this right must be defended. She went on: "But 20 years ago we had a march. We brought members of parliament from Europe, from Germany and France. They were expelled from the country and we were locked up. Today we have huge demonstrations, with thousands of people joining, and the police protect us." Need anything else be said? Yes, there is still a long way to go – but a lot of ground has been covered just by ensuring that all people in Turkey have equal rights – no matter their religion, ethnicity or sexual identification.
If there is a coalition that does not include the AK Party, it would be wise to examine the record of the man who will lead it. Kılıçdaroğlu took over the SSK (social security institution) in 1992, after Ziya Yalçın Sayın left the institution with TL 128,000 profit. In the first year he finished up with a debt of TL 255,000. In 1999 the debt with which he left the institution was TL 1,111 billion. There have been claims that this was due to the inefficiency of the government at the time. No doubt this played a role, but an increase in debt of nearly 500 times is the only record we have of Kılıçdaroğlu's management skills. He did ask the electorate to give him just four years…and that's fair, as it took him seven to completely destroy the SSK.
To finish up this summary of the elections last week, I would like to quote the Jerusalem Post from the day before the elections. (http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Analysis-A-modicum-of-hope-405345) Quoting Michael Rubin, who works at the American Enterprise Institute and was formerly an official at the Pentagon, the paper writes: "The AKP has always been over represented in parliament…" "He (Erdoğan) does not care much for elections unless people vote for him." If the AK Party has always been over represented in Parliament, then one must take into account that other parties have also been over-represented. The fact that the seats of a party which fails to cross the threshold are divided up according to the percentage of votes ensures this. So "over-representation" is a moot point here; all parties are equally over-represented. Moreover, Erdoğan has made it clear that he respects the results of these elections, in which he was not even standing, thus demonstrating that he does greatly care for elections, even if people do not vote for him.
Rubin goes on to say that "Erdoğan won't hesitate to fudge the numbers when the votes are counted off site to ensure the right results….Most Turkish politicians tell me he gets at least a 5% bonus from fraud." This was clearly not the case in the last elections. There was no fraud and the elections have been lauded by all, domestic and foreign, to have been fair and transparent. If Erdoğan really had a magic way to get 5 percent extra votes, the AK Party would have emerged with a clear majority.
Rubin ends up by saying "Turkey's democracy may be too far gone." Yet, last Sunday's results show that this is far from the truth.
When one evaluates what the foreign press is saying about the Turkish elections, one theme comes through. Before the elections the Western media screamed out about fraud and cheating in the Turkish system. Democracy in Turkey was seen to be dysfunctional. Now the elections are over, everyone is applauding the system, saying how great it is that the Turkish public has rejected Erdoğan, stopping the "sultan," showing the "dictator" that they don't want him. The Turkish public has rejected neither Erdoğan nor the AK Party; 41 percent of the people voted AK Party.
But the mud slinging and name calling in both the foreign and Turkish press has had an affect on the voter. Mud washes off, but one must be careful not to sling the baby out with the bathwater.