Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Erdogan Defensive on Threshold Issue

The question of Turkey's high 10% electoral threshold came up again on Wednesday when Prime Minister Erdogan spoke at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The Council of Europe recommended in January 2010 that Council members adopt a 3-5% threshold. When a PACE parliamentarian asked the prime minister why Turkey had such a high percentage, Erdogan became pointedly defensive. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The question brought a stinging response from the Turkish leader, who said the 10 percent election threshold was determined by the Turkish people’s will, rather than the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

“The 10 percent threshold is not determined by my party, we also came [to power] with this threshold. We established our party and managed to come to power 16 months later,” he said, impyling that the threshold was no barrier to becoming elected.

Lowering the 10 percent threshold is not a matter of democracy, according to Erdoğan.

“We will lower the threshold when the time comes, but we will do this by asking our people, not you,” Erdoğan said.

Russia, at 7 percent, is the only other European country approaching Turkey’s 10 percent threshold.

Germany and Belgium have thresholds of 5 percent each; Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia all have thresholds of 4 percent; Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden have 3 percent; Spain, Greece, Romania and Ukraine have 2 percent; Denmark has 0.67 percent, while the Netherlands merely requires parties to win 1/150 of the votes cast to enter parliament.

Although the practices varied widely, the report said the general application was around 4 to 5 percent.

Studying Turkey, the report analyzed 2002 general election data and noted that only two political parties succeeded in passing the 10 percent threshold. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, gained 66.9 percent of the seats even though it won only 34.2 percent of the votes, while the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, gained 33.1 percent of the seats with 19.5 percent of the votes.

As such, 46.3 of the votes were not represented in Parliament in the wake of the 2002 elections, the report said.

“More than half the electorate was deprived of representation and those parties that were elected had a percentage of seats twice that of their percentage of votes, [meaning] that a proportional system became a majority one,” the report said.
For the Council's full report and recommendations, click here. While the CHP and BDP have supported lifting the threshold, the AKP has resisted. Whether to raise or lift the threshold is, of course, a matter of politics. Lifting the threshold would cost the AKP the super-majority it hopes to land in the parliament in June elections while the BDP and AKP would stand to benefit from the AKP's loss. One would expect the MHP to also get on board the threshold issue given that it stands to lose the most should it not reach the the threshold in June. The BDP subverts the threshold by running independent candidates, and then forming a parliamentary group after their election.

UPDATE I (4/18) -- State Minister and EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis defended the threshold yesterday using Israel as a counter-example while speaking on a TV program. “In Israel, they have a foreign minister who flushes the toilet as he speaks on radio . . . . The guy in his youth was a nightclub bodyguard in Moldova. He still thinks of himself as one and cannot pass on to being a statesman. Israel’s foreign policy has been entrusted to this man because they don’t have an election threshold.”

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