Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Turkish elections

If you were following the elections in Turkey -- and, really, who wasn't? ;-) -- you might be understandably puzzled by the results, as well as the analysis. 

Barry Rubin gives a summary:

The stealth Islamist party, Justice and Development (AKP), received almost exactly 50 percent of the vote. Under the Turkish system this will give them an estimated 325 members of parliament, or about 60 percent of the seats.
On the opposition side the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) got about 26 percent of the vote and 135 seats. The right-wing nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) took 13 percent giving it 54 seats. Eleven parties didn’t make the minimum ten percent barrier (they received only about 1 percent or less). There are also 36 independents who are in fact Kurdish communalists.
Now is this good or bad?
Rubin's answer:

[T]he outcome is nonetheless overwhelmingly bad. The AKP got almost–remember that almost–everything it wanted. It will be in power for four more years, infiltrating institutions, producing a new constitution, intimidating opponents, altering Turkish foreign policy, and shifting public opinion to dislike Americans and Jews more.
The only point on which the AKP supposedly fell short is that it didn’t get the two-thirds of the seats, 357, that would let it pretty much write Turkey’s new constitution any way it wanted. It is close to the 330 needed to take a constitution that it produced to a referendum.
But so what? Deals with willing parliamentarians from other parties could easily provide enough votes for the referendum option and if the AKP needs them it would offer lavish promises, both in terms of legislation these people wanted and in terms of personal benefits. The way things are going they would win that vote.
What all this means is that the AKP is entrenched in power and can now proceed with the fundamental transformation of Turkey.
The AKP has become famous for the subtlty of its Islamism, disguised as a “center-right” reform party. Some people in the Arab world are starting to talk about this as a model. Notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is fascinated by the strategy. Yet as the Islamist party gains more and more power and support–Turkey has demonstrated this–it becomes more ambitious, daring, and extreme.
In case you didn't quite get Rubin's message:

This is a disastrous day for the United States and for Europe; for the prospects of stability and peace in the Middle East. And it isn’t great news for the relatively moderate Arab states either.
It is the end of the republic as established by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and modified into a multi-party democracy in the 1950s.
But Claire Berlinski, who's based in Istanbul, doesn't seem to agree.  Her take as the election got started:

The drama, today, is not about whether the AKP will win. It's about whether they'll win a supermajority. These are the numbers to watch for:
276 - majority: the number of seats AKP must win to govern alone.
330 - the number of seats needed to change the constitution, pending approval by referendum.
367 - supermajority: the number of seats needed to change the Turkish constitution without a referendum.
She took comfort from the analysis of Aengus Collins:
[W]e come to 2011 and a set of elections that with almost total confidence we can predict will lead to another term in office for Mr Erdogan and the AKP. In some senses, the political environment is more depressing than at any time in the last decade. Mr Erdogan’s increasingly bombastic and divisive style of governing, coupled with what can only be described as his emergent delusions of grandeur, do not augur well. When combined with his relaxed dominance of the electoral field, they become alarming. These are not ideal background conditions for the drafting of a new constitution, as has been promised following the election.
That said, there are positive developments which should be acknowledged and fostered. Chief among these is the sense that the AKP’s political opponents are finally back in the game. Perhaps Mr Erdogan has inadvertently done Turkish democracy a favour here. By stamping hard on the military and the judiciary, he forced opponents of the AKP to channel their energies where it should have been channeled all along–into democratic politics and the business of persuading citizens of the merits of one political approach over another. A lot of time has been unnecessarily wasted. But in the years to come, this election is likely to be seen as the point at which the foundations were laid for an electoral defeat of the AKP. It won’t happen today. But it will happen.
What will determine the outcome of today’s elections? The broad outlines will be shaped again by the polarisation of Turkish politics, with the AKP likely to comfortably see off its various opponents, who are weakened by being so disparate. But the final result of the election, in terms of the number of seats won in parliament, will come down not to a battle of ideas or a weighing of the merits of the current government, but to the vagaries of Turkey’s deeply dysfunctional electoral system.
The number of parties that make it into parliament has a huge effect on the way the assembly’s 550 seats are distributed. With this in mind, the key thing to look for this evening when the results are announced will be the performance of the hardline nationalists in the MHP. In recent polls, they have been hovering close to the ten per cent threshold for entering parliament, and it is clear that Mr Erdogan’s increasingly harsh rhetoric has been designed in part to lure their voters away and push the party below the threshold. His incentive for doing so is equally clear: if only the AKP and CHP make it into parliament, the resulting two-way distribution of seats would lead to a greatly enhanced AKP majority. That in turn would give the party a much freer hand in terms of drafting Turkey’s new constitution.
Since the election, aside from Rubin's dark scenarios, I have sen little in the way of analysis, Berlinski was tied up with other matters, but after noting AKP did not win a supermajority she did say this:
It's not the worst-case scenario. It's sure not the best.
Collins has been more circumspect and narrow, focusing on the results for Turkey's main opposition party, CHP.  As far as AKP's results, he has this to say:
There will be a temptation for many to look for weak points in the AKP’s result. And they exist, notably in the fact that the party’s parliamentary representation will not just fall, but will fall below the level required to let the party re-write the constitution without relying on other parties’ support. But let’s not kid ourselves—this is a remarkable result for the AKP. I would go so far as to suggest that it is their most impressive yet. In 2002, they went to the electorate following a period of instability and economic crisis—they were in the right place at the right time to profit from the incumbent parties’ decimation. In 2007, they were able to exploit public anger at the military’s interference in the choice of Turkey’s president.
In both cases, the AKP was a potent focus for public anger at other actors in Turkish public life. This helped it to punch above its weight. But that kind of dynamic didn’t apply in yesterday’s election. On the contrary, yesterday’s poll came after months and years of a steadily developing narrative which highlighted the increasing risks posed by the extent of the AKP’s grip on power. That’s a narrative to which I happen to subscribe. But yesterday’s result made it even more bluntly apparent than previously that it isn’t a narrative to which the Turkish electorate subscribes. In circumstances less accommodating than those that obtained in either of the two previous elections, the AKP has recorded a record share of the popular vote. Furthermore, it has breached the 50 per cent mark. This gives it strong claim on moral legitimacy, particularly in a country with a highly majoritarian understanding of how democracy works.
What interests me here is the performance of the MHP.  Collins had said they were hovering near the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.  This time they got 13 percent.

Not the best scenario. Not the worst.  I wonder if the NHP's 13 percent will have an effect on a new constitution.

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