Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Will Happen Tomorrow (And After)?

Reuters Photo from VOA Kurdish

I gave a radio interview this morning to Voice of America's Kurdish service in which I was asked what would be the impact of tomorrow's elections on the AKP-led government's plans to introduce a new constitution.  Though the interview mostly focused on the Kurdish issue, of particular interest was just how successful the AKP could be in bringing forward plans to introduce a new constitution.

If the AKP wins at least 330 seats in the parliament (it now has 336), it will be able to introduce constitutional amendments without the need for much consensus before taking them to referendum -- an approach the AKP took last year and with great success. If the party manages to surpass 367 votes, it will have a 2/3 super majority that will allow it to unilaterally overhaul the constitution without the need for referendum. While the latter is unlikely and the former in doubt, the larger issue is just how sincere the party is in its reiterations that it will seek consensus as it moves forward. At the moment, all four parties with a chance of entering parliament have pledged to adopt a new constitution.

Last year, the party showed little concern as it pushed amendments rapidly forward. Neither civil society nor opposition political parties were given much voice in the process and the result was a referendum that basically polarized the Turkish public. The Kurdish nationalist BDP boycotted the referendum while the CHP and the MHP campaigned hard against the amendments. Though the official result was 58%, the actual number of Turkish citizens who approved the changes was lower given that a large number of Kurds who did boycott.

If the referendum is taken as a measure of the support for the AKP, it can be said that roughly over one-half of Turkish citizens approve of the party and the direction in which it is taking the country. This matches more or less with what a recent Pew poll found. According to the poll, 48 percent of Turkish citizens are satisfied with the direction the country is taking; however, 49 percent responded they are dissatisfied. The satisfied voters, more or less, can be assumed to be likely to vote for the AKP, but of more interest are those who are not. How many of these voters are simply typical Turkish cynics and how many are disenchanted with the party? The rising number of potentially disenchanted is cause for concern (and that is more than an understatement).

One of the most pressing problems in Turkish politics today is the amount of polarization in Turkish political society. Some of this can be explained by the increasing illiberal attitudes and policies of the AKP (see Tuesday's post), which, of course, is made all the more problematic by the AKP's seeming lack of willingness to engage opposition parties and craft serious political compromises when it comes to making government policy. Without an entrenched rights-based liberal democracy, the lack of compromise becomes all the more disturbing. A unilaterally-drawn up constitution will only serve to further polarize the Turkish public while continuing to fail at any real resolution of the classic dilemma posed by democracy and difference.

However, should the AKP fall short of 330 seats tomorrow, the party will be more inclined to compromise. Just exactly what this process of compromise would look like and what parties it would include remains to be seen, but perhaps for the first time in a long time the AKP will be forced to work with other parties to carve out a political agenda.

At stake are Erdogan's ambitions to institute a presidential system that would facilitate his ascendancy to the presidency. If Erdogan wins comfortably tomorrow, he will be more confident in these efforts. Even should the AKP fall short of gaining 3/5 of the seats in parliament, an increase in the popular vote for the AKP will embolden the already emboldened leader to move forward in his quest.

Meanwhile, just as interestingly, the CHP, which has drastically changed its leadership and party platform, will discover whether its new position in Turkish politics will be rewarded. The CHP is expected to pick up seats and increase its vote either way, but will likely have a difficult time gaining the 30% of the vote for which the party is striving. The CHP, which has billed itself as "the new CHP,"  has taken enormous risks this election cycle, presenting itself as pro-Europe, pro-liberal, pro-peace, and importantly, anti-nationalist and anti-coup. With Kilicdaroglu's victory over the party stalwart and former party secretary-general Onder Sav last year, the party has turned 180-degrees in many of its policies, especially in regard to the Kurds and its former pro-military/pro-coup attitude. Defeating Sav, Kilicdaroglu remarked, "The empire of fear is over in the CHP. Now it is time to end the empire of fear in Turkey."

The MHP will also face a serious test tomorrow. A little less than a month ago, there was serious question as to whether the ultra-nationalist party would be able to surpass the 10% threshold required to enter parliament. However, polls conducted at the end of June put the party safely over the threshold. That said, just how well the party does tomorrow will have an impact on the number of seats allocated to the AKP and CHP. The AKP has been competing for its nationalist voter base while the CHP's recent positions, especially in regard to the Kurds, might have alienated some in its former nationalist base to vote for the MHP.

And, finally, not without its own test will be the Kurdish nationalist BDP. The BDP currently has 20 seats in parliament, just enough to form a parliamentary group and be represented. However, there is little doubt that the BDP will surpass this number and could pick up well over 30 seats. Though the BDP candidates are running as independents since there in no chance they could meet the 10 percent threshold, the rising force of the party in the southeast and in Western cities populated by a large number of Kurdish migrants will indubitably be one of the most important stories of this election cycle. As its main challenger, the AKP's increased nationalist rhetoric is likely to work in favor of the party.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.

No comments: