Turkey’s AKP party loses majority in blow for Erdogan

Published June 8, 2015
Diyarbakir (Turkey): A family and children, supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party celebrate the results of the legislative election here on Sunday.—AFP
Diyarbakir (Turkey): A family and children, supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party celebrate the results of the legislative election here on Sunday.—AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party lost its absolute parliamentary majority in legislative elections on Sunday, dealing a severe blow to strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambition to expand his powers.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the biggest share of the vote in the elections, but well down on the almost 50 per cent it recorded in the previous 2011 polls.

In a sensational result that shakes-up Turkey’s political landscape, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) easily surpassed the 10 per cent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament.

Under Turkey’s proportional representation system, this means the AKP will need to form a coalition for the first time since it first came to power in 2002.

The AKP secured 41 per cent of the vote, followed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 25 per cent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on 16.5 and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) fourth on 12.5 per cent, said official results based on a 98 per cent vote count.

Turnout was 86 per cent.

According to the official seat projection, the AKP will have 259 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 131, the MHP 82 and the HDP 78.

The AKP has dominated Turkish politics since it first came to power in 2002 but has suffered from a dip in economic growth and controversy over Erdogan’s perceived authoritarian tendencies.

The results wreck Erdogan’s dream of agreeing a new constitution to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system that he had made a fundamental issue in the campaign.

Such a change would have required a two-thirds majority in the parliament.

“Turkish voters have said clearly that they do not approve of the move to a presidential system,” analyst Seyfettin Gursel of Bahcesehir University said on CNN-Turk television.

Erdogan — premier from 2003-2014 before becoming president — wanted to be enshrined as Turkey’s most powerful figure and strengthen the office of the presidency which was largely ceremonial until his arrival.

Opponents, however, feared it could mark the start of one-man rule, with Erdogan likely to seek another presidential mandate to stay in power until 2024.The result was a triumph for the HDP, which in the campaign had sought to present itself as a genuinely Turkish party and reach out to voters beyond its main Kurdish support base to secular Turks, women and gays.

It was also a personal victory for the party’s charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas, dubbed the “Kurdish Obama” by some for his silky rhetorical skills and who had been repeatedly attacked by Erdogan in the campaign.

“We, as the oppressed people of Turkey who want justice, peace and freedom, have achieved a tremendous victory today,” Demirtas told a news conference in Istanbul.

“Now the HDP is a real party of Turkey. HDP is Turkey and Turkey is HDP, “he said.

He said there would be no coalition with the AKP and instead the HDP would make a “strong and honest opposition”.

HDP MPs had sat in the previous parliament but they had been elected as independents and not from a party list.

In Turkey’s main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, cars are cruised through the streets, with drivers honking and people hanging out from windows making ‘V’ signs as gunshots were fired into the air.

The result however is a disappointment for the CHP, which has again struggled to present itself as a credible main opposition.

Analysts see the nationalist MHP as the most likely coalition partner for the AKP in the new parliament.

Erdogan’s heavy involvement in the campaign in favour of the AKP had been controversial, given that as head of state he is required to keep an equal distance from all parties.

The president, who was spending the evening in Istanbul rather than Ankara, has yet to react to the results. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who led the campaign, is due to give a statement in Ankara.

The legislative election took place under the shadow of violence, after two people were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack on a rally of the HDP in Diyarbakir on Friday.

Over 400,000 members of the police and gendarmerie were deployed across Turkey to ensure security, media reports said.

Davutoglu said one suspect had been arrested over the attack and was being checked for links to militant groups.

In Diyarbakir, several people wounded in the attack, some with their legs in plaster and heads in bandages, defied their injuries to vote, a correspondents said.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2015

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