With only a few hours remaining before the polls close in Turkey, I would like to quickly discuss the stakes and the range of possible outcomes.
First of all, the outcomes of this election are vitally important for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His public desire is to change the constitution in order to create a presidential system. In order to do that without a referendum, he has asked voters for 400 out of the 550 seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM). Otherwise he needs 330 seats to be able to call a referendum on constitutional changes.
This proposed presidential system is exactly why the stakes are so high for Turkey. If he manages to get that many seats, he will be free to create a system with even less checks on his power. If you think the authoritarianism now on display in Turkey is impressive (in a morbid sort of way), just wait until there isn’t even the prospect of a dual executive! According to critics, the worrying part right now is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has not released much in terms of explaining the proposed system, except that the country needs a system that functions more quickly so that the country can economically adapt and grow more quickly, and I would have to agree with these critics. Erdogan already has a majority government as well as the media, the judiciary, the military, the police, and the electoral commission in line, and he would be sure to only further consolidate his position in the event of a new government system.
Now let’s say he does not get the required number of seats, but does get a majority of seats thanks to the 10% national vote threshold for parties to get into parliament. This would be a setback for the AKP as the expectations are publicly higher than just retaining power. What plays into this is the number of parties that get above 10% besides the AKP. Polling seems to indicate that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will easily have the required percentages. What is most important is whether the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will surpass the election threshold as they have been hovering around the 10% mark in the polling recently. If the HDP does get into parliament, the AKP may not even get a majority of seats for the first time in 13 years.
If the AKP is forced to form a coalition with one of the other three parties, it is hard to say what will happen, but if you ask any Turkish person in the street about coalitions, you will quickly understand that they have been quite dysfunctional and ineffective in Turkish history so far. Plus, considering how unfriendly the three main opposition parties are to the AKP, it is hard to see how Turkey would be governed effectively with such a coalition.
One other fear is that there will be election irregularities and fraud undertaken by the AKP in order to prevent the HDP from reaching 10% and/or increase the AKP’s votes. Some people planning to vote for the opposition that I have talked to think that the AKP does not have the gall to do such a thing, or at least not at a systematic level, but others have told me they would not put such methods past Erdogan and the AKP.
On an even more sobering note, some here in Turkey worry about this country becoming the next Syria. While I hope this will never be the case, Erdogan has indeed not hesitated to fan the flames of partisanship and has effectively polarized the country to a whole new level in an attempt to solidify his base. Besides these tensions between the more conservative part of Turkish society that widely supports the current government and the more secular part that tends to support opposition parties, there are major economic tensions caused by inflation, a weakening Turkish Lira, increasing inequality, and what I would perceive to be increasing poverty. Additionally, there are the perceived pressures on the housing and job markets exerted by the two or so million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and the rising anti-refugee sentiment which have been partly fueled by lack of government support and planning for the needs of the refugees, and partly by an often ill-informed Turkish public.
All of these factors together suggest a country headed towards political tinderbox status, regardless of the outcome of the election. I hope there will not be armed conflict at the very least, but social conflict is inevitable and indeed already happening. What Turkey needs is a democratic spirit where it is OK to debate politics while respecting the other person, but it seems a far way off, and the education system seems to be adept at only spitting out more people who can memorize and repeat “truths” and “facts” rather than think critically.
I conclude with the word that has been on my mind in recent weeks when contemplating Turkish politics: chaos. I am not sure why, but I keep coming back to this word. Perhaps I am ignorant of what this word actually means having lived only in the United States and the United Kingdom prior to Turkey, but I have a feeling that this country is headed in that direction no matter what happens today, and I have no intention of sticking around to find out its meaning firsthand.