By Ilke Toygur (Autonomous University of Madrid)

The November elections were a huge gamble for Turkey: A gamble wagered and won. President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) put all their cards on the table and in turn got what they wanted: a single party rule. After failing to form a coalition in June, or rather lacking the will to be in one, the President called snap elections for the first time in the country’s history, and Turkey went to the ballot box for the second time in five months. The participation rate was again very high – especially compared to other European countries – as 85.6% of the voters cast their vote. However, the results were very different from that of the June election, altering parliamentary dynamics, again.

If we wish to analyze the reasons behind this change, we need to look deeper into the general understanding of Turkish society. Turkey is dominated by right-wing voters, mostly conservatives and nationalists. These right-wing voters are divided between the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and nationalist National Action Party (MHP). On the other end of the spectrum, the 2015 general elections saw the rise of a leftist, Kurdish division in mainstream politics. While the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) drew a significant amount of votes from Kurds and the political left, the Kurdish people as whole were generally divided between HDP and AKP.

In this period of five months between elections, Turkey had gone through drastic changes. The ceasefire between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the government was called off. Violence had escalated across Turkey, and martial law had been imposed on some regions in the Southeast. The PKK responded to the government’s attacks with more counter attacks, which also harmed the image of the HDP. HDP buildings were constantly under attack, and HDP supporters were threatened with judiciary processes. The opposition had been silenced by police intervention in mass protests, attacks on media buildings, and the government’s media confiscations. Two significant massacres were carried out by alleged suicide bombers in Suruç and in Ankara, killing over 130 people in total and injuring dozens more. The government was accused of not ensuring security in the area although they had the necessary intel about the suspects. Amidst the violence, the economy had continued to fall further into the red. In the end, people were scared, and the vote for stability, the principle on which the AKP had campaigned, reflected this.

What is different now?
There are 81 cities divided into 85 electoral districts across Turkey. The AKP kept or raised its vote share in all districts it won in June,and the electoral map of Turkey was once again dominated by AKP votes. According to preliminary results, the AKP received 49.48% of the votes and 317 parliamentary seats. This is a significant increase from the June results, an increase nobody, including party members, had ever expected. There are three main sources for this increase: one, the nationalist vote that shifted from MHP; two, the conservative Kurdish vote that came from HDP; and three, the voters of BBP-Saadet (a nationalist Islamist coalition that ran for election in June). Apart from these vote shifts, the AKP also attracted a number of resentful voters who did not go to the ballot box in the previous elections.

Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP, responsible for establishing the Turkish Republic in 1923), gained 25.31% of the vote and 134 chairs in the parliament. Even though party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had been the most positively viewed figure in the pre-electoral term, the party could not duly express its position on the issues dominating this specific election. The CHP’s pledges have historically been very attractive; however, the party could not newly respond to the current needs of the country.

Vote distribution (%) and number of MPs (2002 – 2015)
2002 2007 2011 2015 I 2015 II
Vote MP Vote MP Vote MPs Vote MPs Vote MPs
AKP 34.28 363 46.58 341 49.83 327 40.87 258 49.48 317
CHP 19.39 178 20.88 112 25.98 135 24.95 132 25.31 134
MHP 8.36 0 14.27 70 13.01 53 16.29 80 11.90 40
HDP (Ind.) 6.22 0 5.24 26 6.57 35 13.12 80 10.75 59

Source: The Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey (2002-2015I), CNNTurk for 2015II

The National Action Party (MHP) obtained 11.90% of the vote, winning the least amount of seats of any party in the parliament. The party can be seen as the biggest loser of this election, and many blame the party’s leader, Devlet Bahceli, for this result. The supporters of MHP attribute this loss to Bahceli’s negative attitude in coalition negotiations and his unwillingness to cooperate and agree to every opportunity presented to him for forming a coalition. The MHP missed its chance to be a major player in the political game.

Although the HDP had lost a significant amount of domestic voters compared to the June election results, the party could still pass the 10 percent threshold thanks to the overseas vote, obtaining the right to enter parliament with 59 MPs—although 21 seats less than it had obtained in June—and more than one million popular votes. It should again be emphasized that the HDP had a very difficult pre-electoral period. The HDP had stopped all campaigning after the Ankara massacre. A significant amount of Kurds had deflected to the AKP, afraid that the election of the HDP and failure of the AKP would mark a return to the terror of the 1990s and instability in the Southeast. In addition, a number of Turks from the western part of Turkey reneged, having accused the HDP of not distancing itself from the PKK.

Vote and Beyond: A very important civil initiative
It is important to underline the role played in the elections by the fear that they would not be free and fair. The concern of fraud, like in June elections, mobilized civil society to form the largest voluntary organization in Turkish history working on electoral fraud, “Vote and Beyond,” which managed to mobilize more than 65,000 volunteers in the hopes of securing the voting process to hold free and fair elections. The final report of the organization concluded that there was no systematic fraud in the voting process. This fits with the report of independent observers of OSCEPA (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly); however, the organization further claimed that “elections in Turkey offered voters a variety of choices, but the process was hindered by challenging the security environment, incidents of violence and restrictions against media.”

What is next?
Turkey will continue to be ruled by a single party for four more years. A number of challenges will need to be met by the new government including a failing economy, a revision of foreign policy that adapts to contemporary developments, and a democratic and sustainable solution to terrorist attacks and activity. The society is strongly divided as many are concerned about the AKP’s continued push for a change in the regime from parliamentarism to presidentialism. There is heightened anxiety regarding pressure against the opposition in general, media representatives and journalists in particular, suppression of Kurdish demands for democratization, as well as manipulation of the group to achieve a regime change in parliament, and the use of the Syrian crisis for internal political gain. However, let’s hope that the AKP and Erdoğan’s lack of electoral pressure in the next four years will revive the peace process with the Kurds and take steps towards further democratization and compliance to EU standards of human rights, justice, and freedom of press and expression.

[1] Source for Figure 1: CNN Turk

[2] Source for Figure 2: The Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey (2002-2015I), CNNTurk for 2015II