This historic AK Party victory should not go unchecked; a credible opposition is a vital part of any democracy.
Last night, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to do what very few of his predecessors could and secured a second, larger mandate from the Turkish people. The AK party won 46.6 percent* of the vote, up from 34 percent five years ago.
The main opposition CHP made gains too, moving up a point to 20.85 percent. But it was still a terrible result for Deniz Baykal’s party because the bulk of the anti-AKP vote went instead to the nationalist MHP, which staged a successful recovery from its 2002 showing. It got 14.29 percent.
What was most surprising about this election was not the size of AK’s victory or the crumbling CHP opposition, but the speed with which the results arrived. NTV began spurting results at 6.50pm, far earlier than the previous election. Within the hour, Mehmet Ağar had resigned as leader of the Democrat Party, citing a poor showing.
And it was indeed a poor showing for the Democrats: 5.41 was far short of the 10 percent threshold for a party that was just a few votes short of crossing it five years ago. Doing worse was Cem Uzan’s Youth Party (GP), which despite its aggressive campaign failed to register anywhere. The Felicity Party (SP), the other half of the split in Islamic politics that created the AK party, won a meagre two percent. For them, this vote reinforced what most people believed: that the Turkish people aren’t looking for an Islamic state.
More independents than ever before
This election saw the largest number of independent candidates to enter parliament. Among them was Mesut Yılmaz, the former prime minister who has thrown off charges of corruption stretching back to his time in power to make his return to politics. Rumour has it that he might be pushing for the vacant Democratic leadership. The leader of the right-wing Great Union Party (BBP), Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, was also elected.
Most significant among the independents are those candidates backed by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). 23 of them were elected, enough to establish a parliamentary group and make them the fourth-largest party in parliament.
So how will the new parliament look? Well, official results pending, we know that the AK should have 340 seats and the MHP 71. When the DTP reforms, they will wield 23 seats and when, as is expected, Mr Yazıcıoğlu rejoins his party, the BBP will have a seat too. A seat should also go to a third independent from the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP).
Shape of parliament
But what of the CHP? They are projected to have 112 seats, down from 178 they won five years ago, but that is before we take into account the alliance with the Democratic Left Party (DSP). Under the agreement, 13 DSP candidates were to run on the CHP ticket and break away after entering parliament. If they follow through, the CHP will have fewer than a hundred MPs.
Here’s how things look:
AKP: 340 DSP: 13
CHP: 99 BBP: 1
MHP: 71 ÖDP: 1
DTP: 23 Ind: 2
For Mr Erdoğan, it is nothing short of a spectacular victory. This morning’s papers have called it “the people’s memorandum”, a reference to the army’s warning a few months ago. Foreign news sources say it shows the Turkish people don’t agree with warnings that the secular establishment is under threat.
Will Baykal go?
For the CHP, things are grim. The DSP factor makes things look even worse. Mr Baykal has not shown his face since casting his vote in Antalya yesterday morning, and there were angry protests when an official appeared outside party headquarters last night to make a statement to the press. There are calls for Mr Baykal’s resignation, even from the traditionally supportive Cumhuriyet newspaper. He might well go but, as one my wiser elders pointed out to me on the phone last night, there’s every chance he might come back. He certainly has a habit of doing so.
AK’s victory has exposed the weakness of Turkey’s opposition: they are simply not organised enough. Hope of unity on the right wing failed after a last minute brawl, and Mr Ağar’s Democrats paid for it bitterly with a vote share lower than any of its predecessor parties. The left wing CHP-DSP alliance, meanwhile, is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bypass the electoral threshold. Even the nationalist vote is split, although Devlet Bahçeli’s MHP has shown remarkable success in winning back votes from the GP.
Checks on government
In his victory speech last night, Mr Erdoğan made all the right noises: he said the European Union was still their guide for reform, he said they would not shirk from the Republic’s basic principles, and he even led his delighted audience in a chant of “one nation, one country, one flag, one state”. That should placate the secularist elite for now.
The prime minister might have shown he is not being complacent, but that does not mean he is never going to be. The AK victory should not go unchecked; a credible opposition is a vital part of any democracy. This is why the CHP must drastically reform both itself and Turkish social democracy. I suggest they start with their leader.
* according to results that won’t be officially confirmed until next week.
Photo from NTVMSNBC.