Turkey’s new presidential system enters into force with Erdoğan’s election win

Turkey held a snap election on 24th June. This was the first time that concurrent presidential and assembly elections were held. The constitutional amendments installing a presidential system enter into force with this election. President Erdoğan was re-elected as president at the first round with 52 percent of the votes. He becomes the first president of the new political system. His party, the AKP (Adalet Ve Kalkınma Partisi/ Justice and Development Party),  won 42 percent of the vote and its partner, the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party),11%. It’s highly likely that there will be a conservative/nationalist coalition formed by the AKP and the MHP.

Elections were held under the continuing state of emergency since the coup attempt in 2016. One of the major political actors, Selehattin Demirtaş, the leader of the Kurdish HDP (Halkın Demokrasi Partisi/ Peoples’ Democracy Party) has been in prison for political speeches he made. There were regular assaults and violent attacks on opposition parties even on the election day and threats of internal war by supporters of the ruling AKP. The ruling party also used state facilities, had financial support, and controlled state and private media to ensure greater coverage for themselves and block opposition candidates’ appearances, creating immense electoral inequalities.

The AKP and the MHP formed an alliance called “Cumhur/Public” and supported Erdoğan. At the beginning of the campaign period, it appeared as if President Erdoğan had two particular targets. One was to prevent the IYIP (İyi Parti/the Good Party), from taking centre-right votes from the AKP. The other one was to push pro-Kurdish HDP under the ten percent threshold by portraying the party supported by nearly six million people as the supporter of terrorism. If he could  do so, the AKP would win the HDP’s seats, as it was the second party in the regions where the HDP is strong.

However opposition parties, especially the left wing CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/the Republican Peoples Party) and its candidate Muharrem İnce, challenged this strategy by visiting Demirtaş in prison, promising recognition of the right of Kurds to be educated in their mother tongue, and abolishing the state of emergency. The HDP asked for strategic help from left wing voters to reach the threshold and in return promised to support the runner-up opposition candidate in the second round of presidential race. Even though the opposition parties failed to capture the assembly majority, the HDP did passed the infamous 10 percent national threshold and won 67 MPs in the 600-person Assembly.

Despite the great unfairness they faced, the opposition put up a credible struggle to change Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The opposition alliance, “Millet/the Nation”, which was formed by the CHP, the IYIP, the SP (Saadet Partisi/the Happiness Party), and the DP (Demokrat Parti/ the Democratic Party) agreed on a transition period during which a new constitution for a parliamentary democracy would be drafted. They all ran their own candidates in the first round of the presidential election, but agreed to support whoever won through to the second round. They also affirmed their intention to form a coalition government to democratise the country and tackle the serious economic problems. The HDP declared its support for a new democratic = constitution recognising certain minority rights, too. Their received 47 percent in the presidential race and 46 per cent in the assembly election.

The country will now embark upon a new Turkish type of presidential system with almost no outside checks and balances. President Erdoğan created a highly politicized judiciary after the coup attempt, removing nearly 5,000 judges and appointing politically loyal supporters. The army was also restructured. Now, all state institutions will be redesigned around the presidential office. President Erdoğan controls almost all media (state and private) and the private sector. It appears that the MHP’s supporters are willing to receive some of the benefits of state patronage (1) by forming a coalition.

In short, Turkey’s competitive authoritarian regime is getting consolidated under a patronal hyper-presidential system despite nearly half of the nation’s will for true democracy.

Notes:

1. H. Hale, Patronal Politics Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective, Cambridge Uni Press, 2015, p. 9-10

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