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What This Election Is Really About

[Orininally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with reader's comments] Millions of Turks will go to the polls this weekend to shape the Parliament that will rule Turkey for the next four years. We will all see the result on Sunday night, but, before that, let me share with you my bet. First of all, it seems almost certain to all that the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will have yet another election victory. If that turns out to be the case next Sunday night, then the AKP will have done something that no other party has done in Turkey in half a century: win three elections in a row. (Only the center-right Democrat Party of the 1950s was able to do that – before being taken down by a junta in the wake of their fourth probable victory.) Size matters The AKP owes this popularity mostly to its success in managing the economy and making Turkey a much more prosperous and developed country. Their religiosity is a major problem in the eyes of their opponents, yet is only a side issue for almost half of the country, who feels that Turkey has become a better place to live since the coming of the AKP in 2002. But the size of the AKP victory also matters. Polls show that votes for that party fluctuate around 45 percent. If that turns out to be the case, then the party will have a safe majority (anything above 275 seats in the Parliament) to form a stable government. But if the party receives an even higher number of votes, it might then grab more than 330 seats in the parliament. This result might give AKP the power to rewrite the constitution unilaterally, before taking it to a referendum. Here is my guess: AKP will win big, but not big enough to reach 330 seats. And that would be good; for I believe the party must seek consensus with the opposition on the new constitution rather than drafting it all alone. The most important opposition party, of course, remains to be the Republican People's Party, or CHP. Until recently, their obsessive secularism, and we-do-nothing-but-venerate-Atatürk sort of stance, had given them a stagnant 20 percent of the votes. But lately, the party's new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, brought some change and started to sound a bit more like a social democratic party of the European fold. That's why the CHP is likely to increase its votes in this election. How considerable that increase will be is one of the most curious questions of this election. Personally, I hope that CHP will have a considerable increase in its votes, which will create more incentives for the party to renew itself further. But a CHP victory would be terrible, for the party seems to have no clue about the economy, other than distributing state funds irresponsibly. Luckily, an imminent CHP government seems out of question. The third largest party is the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which represents an emotional, if not occasionally chauvinistic, form of Turkish nationalism. The party recently went through a crisis which exposed some of its senior members in ugly sex tapes. That intensified the question of whether the MHP would be able to pass the 10 percent national threshold in order to be eligible to make its way in Parliament. (That is also crucial to the question of whether the AKP will get more than 330 seats.) It is not only my guess, but also my hope that the MHP will pass the threshold, even if only barely, and enter Parliament. If more parties are represented, the better it is for democracy. Moreover, the MHP's success would be a good response to the sex-tape conspirators, whomever they may be, to show that their tricks did not influence the political scene that much. Independents and others Then there are the Kurdish nationalists, who are supported by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, but enter the election as independent candidates. They seem to have gathered more support than they had in the past, and not just among Kurds but even some left-wing Turks. The BDP owes its ascendance to its wise steps. Until recently, the secular-Islamic divide ran across the Kurdish community as well, as more secular Kurds supported the BDP (and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the terrorist organization it identifies with); whereas most Muslim Kurds preferred the AKP. But lately, the BDP welcomed Islamic Kurdish figures such as Altan Tan, who is now one of the Diyarbakır candidates they support. They also gave out religious messages by organizing "civil prayers," in boycott of government mosques. Plus, the AKP has sounded disappointingly silent lately on the Kurdish issue, probably opening more space to the BDP. There are other independents and smaller parties in the race, too. Among the latter, the People's Voice Party, or HAS, is my favorite. It is a new synthesis of Muslim values and social democratic left, and sounds quite fair minded on all major political issues. (It also has the highest number of non-Muslim candidates.) The party will probably fail to pass the 10 percent threshold, but its modest and articulate leader, Numan Kurtulmuş, who is the most popular figure among conservatives after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, might still have a significant political future. Briefly put, this election is all about how powerful the governing AKP will be, and how opposition parties will fare as opposition. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a stable yet balanced Parliament.
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