Turkey – First Concurrent General Elections under the New Presidential System

Concurrent presidential (first round) and legislative elections are to be held, one year earlier than the original date, on 24th of June, for the first time since the adoption of presidential system in a highly debated referendum in April 2017. A majority runoff system will be used for presidential election and the D’Hondt system with a 10 percent national threshold will be used for legislative elections.

There are two major election alliances. The ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party) and its partner the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party) formed an alliance called “Cumhur/Public”. The main opposition party, the CHP (the Republican Peoples Party), formed an alliance called “Millet/the Nation” with 3 other parties (İyi Parti/the Good Party, Saadet Partisi/the Happiness Party, Demokrat Parti/ the Democratic Party). The pro-Kurdish HDP (the Peoples Democracy Party) has not participated in any of the alliances so far but remains an important player despite the fact that its leaders and many of its MPs are currently in jail.

The ruling party and its partner favoured concurrent elections and changed the electoral rules in order to avoid divided government. According to the new system, each partner in an alliance needs to pass the ten percent national threshold if the total votes are higher than the threshold. This is a great incentive for smaller opposition parties to join an alliance to pass the national threshold in the legislative election. Each party can have their own list under the umbrella of an alliance. The total number of seats that each alliance gets will be decided by looking at their total votes. After the total numbers of seats are known, they will be distributed by party according to their portion in the total votes by the D’Hondt method. According to this system, the more votes remain under the threshold the larger the share of the biggest party within the total numbers. Accordingly, the main opposition party’s (the CHP) strategy to include other three opposition parties into the alliance aims to make the ruling party’s share more proportionate.

As for the effect of concurrent elections together with the majority runoff system generally, the results of legislative elections echo the results of the first round of presidential elections in presidential systems (1). Research shows that the majority run off system encourages a larger number of candidates at the first ballot in the attempt to gain a better bargaining position in coalition building at the second round as well as increasing the number of parties in the assembly (2). In that respect, the majority runoff system encourages coalitions before the election, especially before the second round (3). On the other hand, concurrent elections lower the effective number of parties in the assembly (4). Creating friendly majorities in assemblies still depends on the party system’s level of fragmentation (5). For instance, in a country where the political party system presents signs of polarised pluralism (6) (highly fragmented and ideologically polarised political parties) concurrent elections tend not to produce a solid majority in the parliament. The higher the level of fragmentation, the lower the possibility of a single party majority in the assembly. In such situations, presidents face uncompromising opposition in assemblies which can lead to a constitutional crisis such as in Guatemala and Peru in the 1990s (7). In both countries the presidents (Serrano and Fujimori respectively) ordered the military to close the assembly and arrest the opposition leaders. In Peru Fujimori succeeded whereas in Guatemala Serrano was abandoned by the military and removed from office. Either way the result was not supportive of democracy.

Concurrent elections can help to lower the possibility of divided government and strengthen elected presidents only under the right conditions, such as high popularity of a single strong presidential candidate. The Turkish case seems to confirm this general wisdom. The ruling party’s strategy is to win the much-needed support from its smaller partner in order to win the presidential race in the first round as well as alienating and pressuring the leaders and members of the HDP in order to push the party below the threshold in legislative elections. Meanwhile all the parties in the opposition alliance are running their own candidates in the first round of the presidential race and have decided to support whoever reaches the second round. Their strategy is to push the presidential election into a second round and win a majority of the assembly.

This situation encourages certain outcomes. First, there is the likely increase in the number of parties represented in the parliament. It is highly likely that President Erdoğan’s coalition will gain fewer assembly seats than at present and might even lose its majority in the assembly.

Secondly, there may be more coalitions under then presidential system than previously because of the majority runoff system. Despite the fact that President Erdoğan defended presidential system for not needing coalitions, he has been forced to form a coalition with the MHP in the first round. Whichever alliance wins, it is clear that there will be coalitions in both the legislature and the executive.

Thirdly, the pro-Kurdish HDP seems to be treated as an “anti-system party” (8). Its ideology has been alienated and it has a polarising effect on other electors. For that reason, other opposition parties have refrained from being in a coalition with it. However, the HDP may yet the key to victory for both alliances since the polls are showing a close race.

Notes

1. J. M. Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices on the Performance of Presidential Regimes.” Journal of Social Science and Philosophy 11, no.1 (1999), p. 97, and F. Nunes and M.F. Thies, “Inflation or Moderation? Presidential Runoffs Legislative Party Systems, and Coalitions.”, p.9 . Available at http://felipenunes.bol.ucla.edu/runoff.pdf, accessed 20 March 2015.

2.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices,” p. 95; Nunes and Thies, “Inflation or Moderation?”, p. 8-9.

3. Nunes and Thies, “Inflation or Moderation?”,p. 26.

4.Ibid., p. 18.

5.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices” p.101.

6.G. Sartori, Parties and Party Systems a Framework for Analysis, ECPR Press, 2005 , p. 117-118.

7.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices,” p.96.

8.Sartori, Parties and Party Systems, p. 118.

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