We who live in Democratic and open societies tend to take the electoral process for granted, people who within living memory have been at the sharp end of political violence and authoritarian government treat their Democratic Rights and responsibilities in a less cavalier fashion. For they understand only to well the true value of a democratic system, despite being perfectly aware of its shortcomings.
The Turkish people fall into this category; thus they take their democratic responsibilities very seriously, as they demonstrated on Sunday 23rd July, when approx 42 million of them voted in the Turkish General Election. The Western media had portrayed the election campaign as being the battle of the veil, a fight between the secular parties and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of outgoing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Not only was this analysis far to simplistic, but it totally misunderstands the type of political party the AK Party is, which is something I will return to in the coming weeks.
Whilst the Turkish Army Generals and most opposition parties claimed a vote for AKP was a vote for the introduction of Sharia Law at some time in the future. The Turkish people in their wisdom thought otherwise when they returned Mr Erdoğan and his party to government Office with an increased majority, with 46.3% of the vote which means they will have 340 seats in the new Grand Assembly. [Parliament]
Only two other parties managed to pass the 10% threshold which it is necessary to pass to enter Parliament, the Kemalist Republican Peoples Party (CHP) 20.68% –111 seats and the far right MHP 14.28%–71 seats.
What conclusions can one briefly draw from the outcome of this elections, firstly Neo-liberal economics in Turkey if not defeated has had some manners put on it. All of the Parties who will enter the new Parliament supported to one degree or another an extension of the Welfare State, especially health care, state education and infrastructure. Indeed those parties like ANAP- ANAVATAN who led the Neo-liberal charge in Turkey from the mid 1980s onwards and there recent incarnations the Democratic Party [DP] and Young Party failed to pass the threshold, gaining a miserable 8% of the vote between them. If you take into account that the predecessors of these parties ruled Turkey for much of the mid 1980s-90s and at times there members held both the Prime Ministership and Presidency then one gets an idea of the scale of their defeat.
Another welcome outcome of the 2007 election is that the pro Kurdish Democratic Society Party [DTP] will be represented in the new Parliament . Due to the inability of a minority party to pass the 10% threshold, the DTP leadership decided to stand as independent candidates who are not covered by this rule. They were extremely successful gaining 26 seats thus there will be a sizable DTP faction with the new Assembly.
In the south east of Turkey it was the DTP indies and the AK Party which swept the board. In the mainly Kurdish region of Diyarbakir all ten seats where shared equally between the AK Party and the DTP indies. Which should the incoming AK government find the courage, offer a means for them to enter into negotiations with the Kurds to bring the PKK insurrection to an end once and for all.
Whilst the independent lefts academic Baskim Oran failed to gain a seat, Ufuk Ufa the former leader of the Freedom and Solidarity Party [ODP] an alliance of socialist and libertarian organizations was more successful gaining a seat as an Indie in Istanbul. 46 women will sit as MPs in the new Parliament which is twice as many os the old Assemble.
On the down side there is little doubt this wave of independent candidates testifies to the democratic deficit at the heart of the Turkish electoral system, by this I mean the ten per cent threshold. The incoming parliamentarians and Government must act to reduce it to at the very least to 5%, as it is in many EU countries.
The Turkish Daily News pointed out that the centre right parties DP and GP jointly polled 8.39%, which is approx 1.9 million voters, equal to the population of Slovenia and means in reality that number of Turkish people have been all but disenfranchised. It is impossible not to conclude that despite the increasingly strong heart beat of Turkish democracy, this short fall is a national scandal which must be rectified at the earliest opportunity.