While the government has signaled a change from the current model to the “first-past-the-post” election system, political scientists have warned that an immature political system might give rise to a leader and party hegemony in Turkey and diminish the number of opposition party seats in Parliament.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman about the government-initiated change of the electoral system to a first-past-the-post model, Konsensus Research and Consultancy Company manager Murat Sarı stressed that Turkey would be divided into 110 regions for the election of deputies in the general elections, which are scheduled for 2015, if the government passes such legislation prior to Parliament going into its summer recess.
However, while the current parliamentary system allows small opposition parties to have a considerable representation in Parliament, a possible government-sponsored change will overwhelmingly favor the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the elections, while the opposition parties, especially the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), might face the risk of a huge loss in seats.
Sarı pointed out that if the AK Party achieves its current share of the vote (around 45 percent), its seats in Parliament will exceed 367, which is the amount required to amend or entirely change the Constitution, as well as laying the foundation for the presidential system that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has continually expressed as one of his future plans.
According to Sarı, following the change in the electoral system, Erdoğan will have the necessary majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution without asking the opposition parties and also to clear the way for his presidency. Accordingly, in an earlier speech, Erdoğan said the government is planning to introduce such a change in the electoral system so that only one deputy will be elected in each electoral constituency.
In the new system, Turkey will be divided into 550 constituencies. The deputy obtaining the largest share of the vote in a given constituency will be elected to Parliament, while candidates from other political parties will be eliminated. With the planned change, one political party — the AK Party — will have the strongest representation in Parliament, based on the election result it obtains in the polls, securing a single political party’s position with more power and grip over the policy-determination process, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) will have a limited voice and the MHP will be totally sidelined.
Sarı emphasized that the first-past-the-post system would give rise to unfair results for smaller political parties such as the MHP, as the planned system favors the ruling and then the second-strongest party, warning, “According to the worst-case scenario, the MHP might only have two seats in Parliament if the first-past-the-post election system is enacted by Parliament.”
The government is planning to submit the proposal to Parliament before the summer recess. If the election law is amended, the AK Party will have many more seats in the next general elections, even if it secures the same share of the vote. The planned proposal is considered a government move to compensate for its share of the vote in the local elections in March, which diminished relative to its previous performance.
Sarı noted that the MHP will be severely damaged in terms of its seats in Parliament if the change in the electoral system is adopted, adding, “Abolishing the election threshold, which at the moment stands at 10 percent for general elections, is not a democratic act, but the solution is not a system in which key political parties are excluded from Parliament.”
Another political scientist, Mehmet Akif Okur, said there are two possible choices before the government in terms of creating a new election system: “The political party that secures the most votes in each electoral constituency will be eligible to hold the largest margin in Parliament, meaning having more seats than the share of the vote it obtained in the elections. It means the AK Party will have more deputies than its share of the vote. Therefore, the AK Party will have enough of a majority to change the Constitution in accordance with its political agenda. Reaching the number of 367, which is required to amend the Constitution without holding a referendum, might be realized by an amended electoral system.”
Stressing that Erdoğan is seeking a presidential system in which he can be president, Okur said: “We can speak of a system in which power is concentrated in one hand. It means votes cannot find proper representation in Parliament. The people’s will is not reflected there, which may result in exacerbated social division, even inciting conflict in society.”
İhsan Aktaş, manager of research company GENAR, also told Today’s Zaman that each province has a quota for the election of a certain number of deputies. Some provinces have the right to send 10 deputies to Parliament, while others have only one or two, he explained, adding: “There are certain concerns about the change, as it might grant more of a grip to the ruling party while weakening the others. This system is more applicable to presidential systems. If the proposal is passed in Parliament, small parties will become smaller and strong ones will become stronger due to their increasing numbers of deputies.”
According to Aktaş, Erdoğan is weighing the pros and cons, and the CHP and MHP’s share of the vote seems likely to be seriously damaged if such a regulation is adopted. He explained: “Since 2002, the government has aimed at altering the Constitution, but it has failed due to its weak representation. It can be said that altering the election system may well pave the way for a change in the Constitution, strengthening Erdoğan’s hand against the opposition.”