Turkey, 2018: Unusual alliance behavior

On 24 June, Turkey has concurrent presidential and assembly elections. These will usher in the new constitution, under which Turkey becomes a presidential system. (The current system is premier-presidential, having changed from parliamentary with the adoption of direct presidential elections.)

The election was called earlier than necessary in an attempt by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to catch the opposition unprepared. However, unexpectedly, several opposition parties have assembled joint lists an alliance (see clarification below) to contest the assembly elections. Polling suggests that they could win a majority.

The coalition behavior of the opposition is unusual in that it features parties running in a pre-election coalition for assembly elections while running separately for a concurrent presidential election. I know of few cases of major parties behaving this way. It makes sense, however, in that Turkey’s 10% nationwide threshold for assembly seats makes for potentially high disproportionality (so much so that I questioned whether it was “democratic” several years before the crackdown that followed the attempted coup). On the other hand, the presidency is elected by two-round majority, meaning first-round divisions do not necessarily prevent a group of parties eventually getting one of their own elected. (See Chile 2005 for another example of such unusual alliance behavior.; also Taiwan 2012.)

The Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which counts on Kurdish support, is running separately. It cleared the threshold in both elections of 2015 (a, b), and may do so again.


Zeynep Somer-Topcu clarifies, regarding the assembly alliances:

Ballot had each party and then a larger box for the alliance. You could just stamp anywhere within the box for alliance (if no party preference). Threshold applies to alliance but each party’s MPs enter based on their parties’ vote shares once alliance passes threshold.

(via Twitter, presented here with her OK)

I think it is quite unusual for alliances to work this way, allowing vote pooling across separate lists to help drag smaller parties over a threshold.

Acknowledging (Turkish de-facto SNTV)

One of the great pleasures of academic writing is being able to acknowledge students and blog readers who help you see things you’d have missed. The posted image is from p. 304 of Votes from Seats.

The footnotes here refer to a current graduate student in our department and a regular reader/commenter on this blog.

Click here for the original comment acknowledged in that footnote #14.

Turkey: referendum post-mortem

As most are undoubtedly aware by now, the package of constitutional amendments proposed by Turkey’s government passed narrowly in the referendum two weeks ago.

I feel like my first post on the subject did not adequately cover the already deeply authoritarian background in which the referendum took place. Freedom of speech and the press have never been fully established in Turkey, and their suppression has worsened over the last decade. Moreover, since AKP rose to power in 2002, the public sector has been subjected to repeated purges, and not just since last year’s failed coup. The referendum campaign itself was strongly affected by this, and the legitimacy of the outcome should certainly be questioned. Claire Berlinski writes[1]:

“The poll took place under a state of emergency. A third of the judiciary has been fired; some are still in jail. Three members of the Supreme Election Board are in prison, too. It’s possible that they’re mostly Gülenist coup-plotters as charged, and possible that jail is exactly where they ought to be, but this doesn’t obviate the point: Nothing like an independent judiciary buttressed this referendum. In some cases, authorities prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events; those opposing the motion were tear-gassed (of course), and prohibited from carrying signs or assembling, or even beaten or shot at. The “yes” campaign received vastly more publicity; its supporters were given hundreds of hours on television stations. Opponents, almost none…

Hundreds of election observers were barred from doing their jobs, and at the last minute, the election board changed the standards required to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. Many instances of voter fraud appear to have been captured clearly on camera. [my link]”

It is clear that many of these democratic deficits have existed for years now. Not just in terms of democratic rights or process, but also the constitutional checks and balances. As Berlinski argues, the referendum “merely legally formalized the longstanding de facto state of affairs”. Dissolution power, extensive decree powers, emergency powers – all existed already. The only difference was that they were mostly vested in the government. Under semi-presidentialism, president’s Erdogan’s position was already secure[2], but his power depended largely on being able to control the government.

In theory, under the semi-presidential system, AKP MPs (including the Prime Minister) could use their position to check the president’s power by scrutinizing the government and holding it to account. In practice, of course, they have little reason to do so. Therefore, the only situation in which the president (and the government) might be subject to meaningful check would be if the government ever lacked a majority in the Grand National Assembly – in extremis, this could have resulted in cohabitation, depriving Erdogan of control over the executive entirely.

My current theory is that AKP’s loss of its assembly majority in 2015a is what motivated Erdogan to seek a fully presidential system – completely eliminating the assembly’s confidence power over the government and vesting all executive power (plus decree powers) in the president and his agents. Now Erdogan will be secure in his position as president, as before, but his control over the executive will be secure too.

Therefore, despite this change to presidentialism (and earlier, semi-presidentialism), this democratic breakdown comes in the ‘parliamentarism’ column. Was it something inherent in parliamentarism that made, or allowed it to happen? Probably not. All else being equal, things could have easily followed much the same path.

What probably did make a difference, I think, is the electoral system – specifically the 10% threshold, which has a strong tendency to manufacture majorities[3]. At the 2002 election, the AKP came to power with a single-party majority gained off a mere 34.3% of the vote. Admittedly, at every election since (except 2015a), the AKP received more than 46% of the vote, vote shares which would have granted it majorities even in most proportional systems. But I wonder whether, under a truly proportional system for the assembly[4]:

  1. Fewer voters would have voted strategically for AKP (at the 2007, 2011, and 2015b elections), instead voting for other parties which would have been viable as a result of the lower threshold; and/or
  2. Lacking a majority from 2002 through 2007 would have prevented AKP from accruing an incumbency advantage (of any kind – democratic or not) at the 2007 election (assuming it would still have managed to form the government).

If either were true (and both seem likely to me), it is considerably more difficult to see how the party would have managed to undermine democracy and usurp power in the way it has. Without a majority, the other parties would have been able to check AKP’s consolidation of power, it would have been much more difficult for the party to change the constitution to introduce direct presidential elections (2007) or undermine the independence of the judiciary (2010), and it would have been difficult for it to force through its own choice of president in 2007. Even if the above propositions were not true, proportional representation and a multi-party legislature[5] would undoubtedly have delayed the erosion.

[1] I strongly recommend Berlinski’s account of the decline of Turkey’s democracy since 2002 (and the atrocious western response), Guilty Men: How Democracies Die.

[2] Meaning, he cannot be removed by majority vote in the assembly or by his party.

[3] Though I do not think this feature is inherently undemocratic, majoritarianism is problematic (especially in young democracies). If it is included in a system, it should always be balanced out by countervailing checks such as strong bicameralism and a well-entrenched constitution.

[4] At a minimum, this would mean a threshold reduction from the current 10% to 5%, ceteris paribus.

[5] Or a powerful upper house elected by proportional representation, especially with non-concurrent and/or staggered elections.

Turkey referendum: Latin Americanization on the road to autocracy

Turkey will go to the polls on April 16th, to vote on a set of constitutional amendments which would change the country’s system of government to presidentialism. Though it seems that in Turkey, the current system is generally referred to as ‘parliamentary’, Turkey has actually been semi-presidential (specifically, premier-presidential) since the country’s first direct presidential election was held in 2014.

The amendments passed the three-fifths legislative majority necessary to put them to referendum with support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Introducing presidentialism has long been president Erdogan’s express wish. The idea has apparently been around in Turkish politics for a while before it was adopted by the Erdogan and his party, AKP. Full presidentialism seems to have been ‘plan A’, so introducing semi-presidentialism (passed in 2007, entering operation in 2014) was perhaps only ever meant as a way-station toward this goal.

The main details of the amendments are as follows:

  1. Establishing presidentialism:

As stated above the president is already elected directly, specifically using a two-round system. The president is to become both head of state and head of government, with the power to appoint and fire ministers and the vice president. There is no requirement for the Grand National Assembly to confirm appointments. Executive office is incompatible with assembly membership. Interpolation of ministers is to be removed from the constitution, leaving MPs with written questions.

  1. Legislative powers:

The president is to have veto power over legislation, subject to absolute majority override in the assembly. He is to have the power to issue decrees in “matters concerning the executive power” and regulations “to provide for the enforcement of the laws, provided they are not contrary to them”. These cannot affect fundamental rights, except under a state of emergency; an emergency can be declared by the president without confirmation by the assembly, but the latter must be notified immediately and can shorten or end it at any time. These decree powers are essentially the same as those currently held by the cabinet. The president would also dominate the budgetary process: the complete budget is to be proposed by the president and put to a straight up-or-down vote in the assembly without possibility of amendment, with failure to adopt a budget within a timeframe leading to continuation of previous arrangements.

  1. Term lengths and dissolution power:

The assembly’s term in extended to five years (from the current four) and legislative and presidential elections are to be held concurrently. If the presidency becomes vacant, fresh presidential elections must be held. If parliamentary elections are due within less than a year, then they too are held on the same day as early presidential elections; if the parliament has over a year left before its term expires, the newly elected president serves until the end of the parliamentary term, after which presidential and parliamentary election cycles are held concurrently again.

The president is to be limited to being elected twice, but there are some exceptions, the first of which is that a mid-term vacancy-filling election doesn’t count towards the total. The current presidential power to dissolve the assembly is retained, in addition to a new clause which enables the assembly to dissolve itself, by three-fifths majority vote – in either case, fresh elections are held for both president and assembly, who serve new five-year terms. Early concurrent elections triggered by the assembly can always be contested by the president.

  1. Impeachment

The president or any member of the executive is indicted by two-thirds majority in the assembly (upon which many powers, including dissolution, are suspended), which takes the decision on removal to the Supreme Court. A president which has thus been removed is ineligible for re-election.

  1. Judiciary

The acts of the president, previously protected, are now to be subject to judicial review. The structure of the judiciary will not change much – with the role of the president in appointments remaining quite strong. Of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the president is to appoint 6 and the assembly is to appoint 7 (4 of whom must be judges from the highest courts) – for renewable four-year terms. The Council appoints most (two-thirds to three-quarters) of the judges of each of the highest courts, with the rest being appointed by the president directly.

According to the BBC, Erdogan claims that the new system will ‘resemble those in France and the US’. There is clearly little truth to this. First of all, France is semi-presidential, specifically the premier-presidential variant. This means that the prime minister, while appointed by the president, can formally only be removed by the assembly – in other words, what Turkey has now. These amendments would outright abolish the prime ministership and parliamentary responsibility, granting the president (already in a position to play a dominant role in the country’s government) absolute control over the executive branch.

Does that mean that the new system will essentially be the same as the US? Not really. Presidential or not, the proposed system includes numerous features bearing little resemblance the American model of checks and balances. The amendments would invest the Turkish president with extensive constitutional decree powers, allow him to all but dictate the budget, but on the other hand leave him with a substantially weaker veto than the US. The absence of assembly confirmation vote for ministers, not to mention presidential dissolution power, are also alien to the US constitution. Overall, the proposed institutional framework is to bear far greater resemblance to past and present constitutions of Latin America, where assembly confirmation is non-existent, emergency and decree powers are common, while some of the other institutions in question have featured occasionally, e.g. presidential dissolution power (Ecuador, formerly Chile and Argentina) and weaker veto (Brazil, formerly Venezuela).

In any case, the proposed amendments represent an immense consolidation of power in the hands of president Erdogan. It would probably allow him to serve beyond the supposed limit of two five-year terms. Judicial appointments involve a somewhat greater degree of presidential influence over a judiciary that has already lost a great deal of independence in recent years. Judicial review, needless to say, will not amount to much. Furthermore, the requirement for judicial ratification may leave impeachment ultimately toothless even in the unlikely event that the requisite majority were achieved in the assembly. Meanwhile, the weak veto and the assembly’s own (weaker) power to call early elections is unlikely to provide much balance in practice. Though dissolution would entail new elections for both president and assembly, a president armed with the power to dissolve the assembly still seems more likely to have the upper hand in the exceptional situation his party ever lacks a majority there – exceptional because of the country’s majoritarian system, and because the president’s very power of calling early elections enables him to do so opportunistically, as Erdogan did in 2015[1].

The Venice Commission’s report characterises the proposed changes as “a dangerous step backwards” for democracy in Turkey. It certainly feels hard to disagree.

[1] One might add (as the Venice Commission does) the fact that elections will be concurrent, which is certainly true, though, as we have recently seen, it’s certainly possible (though still uncommon) for countries to elect a president in the second round that was not of the legislative majority elected concurrently with the first round (e.g. Argentina, Peru), while more generally, two-round systems cause vote fragmentation in the first round. If elections in Turkey remain competitive, it may be that the two round system will, in the long run, cause fragmentation which will spread to the assembly. Perhaps more likely is that once in a while, the concurrent elections could result in divided government as in the first scenario I mention here. A situation like that might provoke Linzian scenarios, but is probably most likely to simply result in early elections at some point, whose outcome would most likely be a reversion to the regular unified control.

Turkey’s coup

Awful, eh? I mean, in particular, the aftermath. It seems we are watching the consolidation of a potentially totalitarian state.

I don’t know enough about Turkey to know if that statement is really “true”, but given how often I have written about Turkey’s elections and constitutional reforms in the past, I thought there should at least be a space here to discuss what’s happening…

Turkey 2015b: Erdogan’s gambit pays off (apparently)

Well, this is depressing. The Turkish AKP party apparently has regained the parliamentary majority in today’s general election, the second in the country this year.

While the Guardian calls it a “surprise“, I don’t think so. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presumably knew what he was doing when he refused to go into coalition following the results of the June election, and let parliament be dissolved instead.

Quoting from the Guardian live blog, 14:10 update:

With 95% of votes counted, the AKP won almost 50% of all votes, according to the state news agency Anadolu. The main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) stood at 25.2 percent, smashing all possibilities of a coalition government. The HDP scraped over the unusually high threshold of 10% with 10.6 percent of all votes, down from 13% in the 7 June election.

At least the parliamentary majority is not due to exclusion of the HDP.

2015b: Greece and Turkey back to the polls

Both Greece and Turkey had notable elections earlier in 2015: Greece in January, when SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) came to power; Turkey in June, when the AKP (Justice and Development Party) fell short of a majority and the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic party, which has much Kurdish support) cleared the country’s 10% threshold for the first time.

Now, both are going back to the polls before the year is out, meaning we will have elections “2015a” and “2015b” for both countries. Greece is no stranger to early elections, but I believe this will be a first for Turkey.

In Greece, once PM Alexis Tsipras completed the passage of the measures required to secure new EU loan guarantees (the third “bailout”), he resigned, triggering early elections. He passed the measures with the help of the opposition parties, given the negative votes from within SYRIZA. The drachma nostalgist splinter from SYRIZA will contest the 20 September election as Popular Unity.

In Turkey, no agreement was reached on any of the possible coalition (or minority government) options, and so an election was called. The new election will be 1 November.

The nature of the countries’ electoral laws will make these worth watching.* Under Greek law, a second election within 18 months of an earlier one is under a different list format. Normally, Greek party lists are mostly open (there are provisions to ensure safe seats for party leaders). In case of a new election within a year and half, the lists are closed.

Greece has been through this process of closed lists in a second election already, as recently as 2012. In that case, most closed lists were ranked by parties–at least in the range of positions in which candidates are viable–in a manner highly consistent with how they had been ranked by voters’ preference votes on the earlier, open lists. In this case, obviously, SYRIZA will have many list ranks vacated by defectors. It will be interesting to see how much the SYRIZA leadership reorders the lists, given this opportunity. (In 2012, SYRIZA changed the ranks of none of its open-list winners.)

Despite polls showing a close race, I find it difficult to imagine that SYRIZA would not again be the plurality party. It may not even face a “setback” despite its own splinter, as 29% in a context of 25% undecided (according to one poll) would translate into a greater share of the decided vote than it had in the election January, which was 36%. The Greek system gives the plurality party an automatic bonus, and as we saw in the earlier election, 36% can give a party right around half the seats.  [See Henry’s comment. I may have that point about undecided voters wrong, and SYRIZA could be in trouble in the polls after all.]

In the Turkish case, the Kurdish political organizations prior to 2015 had avoided the risk that the high nationwide threshold would exclude them entirely (were they to run lists) by running their candidates as independents. They actually became quite good at it–sometimes even electing two or more candidates per district through effective vote-management strategies. In other words, to the Kurdish political forces, the system was effectively single non-transferable vote: elect individuals by ensuring your votes are efficiently divided. For an example, see Van in 2011, with a district magnitude of 7: Three seats for the AKP on 40% of the vote, and four independents with individual vote totals ranging from 9.7% to 15.4% (48.7% combined).

In the June election, the HDP, consolidating Kurdish and left-liberal opposition forces, won 13.1% of the vote. It thus cleared the threshold fairly easily. If they break 10% again, it is hard to see how the government-formation process will be any easier. Or perhaps the AKP counting on its recent resumption of its crackdown on Kurdish separatism attracting hardline votes that will get it back over half of parliament.

* I know, I know. I always say that.

** SYRIZA’s coalition partner, Independent Greeks, is polling very close to the 3% threshold. It won 4.75% in January.

Turkey 2015: The AKP’s non-majority is not a surprise, and higher thresholds can only increase the largest party’s seat share

The reporting on the Turkish election results is treating the AKP’s fall to less than half the seats as a really big surprise. There was even a column in a Turkish newspaper that suggested the high threshold may have been a reason for the non-majority. This post attempts to set the record straight: these claims are bogus.

Was the AKP losing its majority a surprise?

Pre-election polls suggested the AKP would earn around 40% of the vote, which proved spot on. (The link there is an article from May 28, which I cited in my pre-election post.)

The Turkish electoral system is sufficiently proportional (although only modestly so) that a leading party with around 40% of the votes would be highly unlikely to get a majority of seats–UNLESS there were sufficient numbers of wasted votes for parties falling below the threshold. That threshold is set at 10%, and applied nationwide, in spite of all seats being allocated in 85 multi-member districts. In the past, the AKP had won parliamentary majorities on less than half the votes (and as low as 34%), but only due to a large below-threshold vote for minor parties and independents (many of them Kurds who this time coalesced behind the HDP).

Once the HDP cleared the threshold, there was essentially no way for the AKP to get a majority. In the same pre-election polls, the HDP was in the range of 8.5-11.5%. Thus it was a knife edge whether it would clear, but hardly a big surprise. And if the HDP had a good chance of clearing the threshold, the AKP could not get a majority unless its vote share was considerably higher than anticipated.

Did the threshold actually hurt the AKP this time?

Regarding that threshold, there was a piece in the Monkey Cage blog that was otherwise a very fine overview of “How the Kurds upended Turkish politics“, but in which one point makes no sense:

As editor of the English-language Hurriyet Daily News Murat Yetkin shrewdly pointed out, the AKP may have been a victim of its own dependence on the unfair 10 percent threshold rule. If the threshold had been lowered to 5 or 7 percent, argued Yetkin, the AKP still would have been prevented from adopting Erdogan’s presidential system, but its parliamentary majority would have been salvaged.

That point actually does not seem so shrewd to me. Yetkin himself further says:

Because of the complicated calculation system that the 10 percent threshold brings with it, the AK Parti has lost its parliamentary majority.

The system is indeed somewhat complex, but there is nothing complicated about how thresholds affect the outcome. If you attain the stipulated minimum vote share nationwide, you qualify for seats in any of the 85 districts in which you have sufficient votes.

How could it be that a LOWER threshold would INCREASE the seat share of the largest party?

he only thing I can imagine Yetkin may have meant–although he does not spell this out–is that the HDP vote itself would have been lower if the threshold had been lower, and implicitly, the AKP vote would have been higher. In other words, HDP, according to such an argument, may have benefited from strategic voting by voters who wanted to ensure it got 10%. Given that it got almost 13%, which was–as I noted above–more than pre-election polls predicted, while the AKP result was in line with those polls, such an argument (which, again, Yetkin did not actually make) seems a stretch.

A “normal” result, given the electoral system and HDP being over the threshold

The bottom line is that the result of this election, while quite a watershed for Turkish politics, has given Turkey a fairly “normal” result for an electoral system of its average magnitude (around 6.5). The threshold, in the end, did not bar any significant political force from representation, unlike in previous elections. A largest party winning around 47% of the seats on about 41% of the votes is nothing out of the ordinary. Whether Turkish-Kurdish politics can be as “normalized” as the election result itself is another matter. Stay tuned to the government-formation process and aftermath for clues.

Turkish election, 2015

Turkey is holding general elections on 7 June. It is an unusually important election, coming as it is after the first direct presidential election. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking parliamentary support to amend the constitution to make the presidency far more powerful–currently it is mostly ceremonial. For that he needs either his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win two thirds of the seats, or to have willing coalition partners that would get a constitutional amendment bill to two thirds.

This time around, a potentially significant party for the Kurds is running. In past elections, Kurdish candidates have generally run as independents. According to Henri J. Barkey, in Foreign Policy, the AKP is polling in the low forty-percent range. The main party of the Kurdish minority, People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is polling anywhere from 8.5% to 11.5%. Which end of that range the HDP ends up in is critical, because Turkey uses a 10% nationwide threshold.

In 2007, I questioned whether the Turkish system even should be considered democratic, because of its very high threshold, combined with district-level allocation of all seats. That is, there is a system of 550 seats divided among 80 or so constituencies, for a mean district magnitude of around 7. However, even if a party wins sufficient votes to to get seats in one or many of these districts, it actually will get no seats at all if it has not won 10% nationwide. I have previously offered some egregious examples of district-level results generated by this combination of districting and nationwide threshold. Independents, however, can and often do win seats–many of these have been informally affiliated with Kurdish parties that couldn’t win 10% nationwide but could elect some “non-party” candidates in specific districts where their supporters are concentrated.

In 2011, I did some calculations meant to estimate how many parties should be expected based on this system. Over the 1995-2007 period, the averages are about what my estimates implied they should be. I concluded that maybe the system was bifurcating into two parallel systems–one of parties passing the 10% threshold, and another of non-party MPs representing Kurds and other interests.

The 2015 election will be a major test of both the representativeness of the electoral system and the strategy of the HDP. If the party clears 10%, it can hold the balance of power and force Erdogan to make concessions to the Kurdish minority in order to get his presidential powers.* If HDP fails, the AKP will probably get a manufactured two-thirds majority and be able to govern and amend the constitution at will. And, in that event, the Kurds will be worse off for not even having a bloc of independent legislators present in the parliament. For their sake, and the sake of Turkish democracy (such as it is, I hope the HDP and Kurdish leaders know what they are doing. As Barkey, the worst thing would be for the HDP to just miss the threshold, and AKP to get two thirds.


* Some weeks ago, I recall seeing an article in the Economist that suggested Erdogan was intending to strike just such a deal. The tenor of Barkey’s Foreign Policy piece is quite different. I don’t know the Turkish situation well enough to know which is likely.

Turkey’s new semi-presidential politics

By JD Mussel

At Al-Monitor, Cengiz Candar offers an insightful perspective on politics under Turkey’s now semi-presidential constitution.

Turkey’s Constitution was amended in 2007 to make the president directly elected, changing the executive format from parliamentary to premier-presidential. Accordingly, the first presidential elections were held on August 10th, which were won by majority in the first round by Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been prime minister since 2003.

Outgoing (indirectly-elected) president Abdullah Gul (who, along with Erdogan, was one of the AK party’s founders), had been considered the strongest contender for the party chairmanship and premiership* now vacated by Erdogan. However, Erdogan appears to have viewed this prospect as a threat, and has instead designated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister, to be confirmed by a special party congress on the 27th, the day before Erdogan’s swearing-in.

As Candar puts it:

Erdogan does not want Gul at the head of the AKP, and he does not want him as the next prime minister of Turkey.

The reason is transparent: Gul cannot and will not be a puppet prime minister for Erdogan, who wants a more or less South American-style presidency for the next five years, if not 10.

To be more constitutionally exact, it will resemble a French-style (non-cohabitation) presidency, considering its premier-presidentialism framework as well as the AKP’s clear majority in the Grand National Assembly, which it partly owes to the country’s majoritarian 10%-threshold electoral system. This combination of institutions should work to strongly presidentialize parties, and invest the president with the effective power to choose and fire his own prime minister, as is the case in France.

However, it would seem that the situation might develop differently if Gul does manage to become party chairman after all. It certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen, but it would certainly be interesting if it did. Are there precedents of such a thing happening? Has a majority party in a premier-presidential system ever successfully picked its own agent as prime minister against the wishes of a president of the same party**? Has it even been tried?


* The article above mentions a constitutional provision obliging the president to appoint the head of the ‘victorious’ party as PM, but I failed to find such a provision in the constitution, which simply states that the President appoints the PM.

** That is, a non-cohabitation situation.

Presidentialization in Turkey

As previously discussed at F&V, Turkey has made the constitutional change from parliamentary to premier-presidential system. The country’s first-ever direct election of the presidency is on 10 August (first round).

A headline today is a nice summary of the sort of things presidentialization can do to political parties: “Turkey’s secular opposition endorses devout Muslim for president“.

The two parties in question, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), would be unlikely to have nominated for prime minister someone like Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, described as “devout Muslim tasked with winning votes from the AKP’s traditionally pious electorate”. They also would have been somewhat unlikely to forge a pre-electoral coalition. However, given the need to appeal to the median voter against the incumbent Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be seeking to move to the directly elected presidency, the opposition parties have devised a new vote-seeking strategy.

As the news item also makes clear, not everyone in the parties is happy about it. Yes, I have seen this sort of thing before…

Response on Syria and Turkey

In response to my planting on Syria and Turkey, I received the following message from Professor Kürsad Turan of the Department of International Relations, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.

With Professor Turan’s permission, I am posting it here.
I am an assistant professor at Gazi University, Ankara – Turkey, working on ethnicity and the Middle East. Mike from Central American Politics passed your question on “A cross-border comparison of political institutions and communal conflict” along to me for comment and I thought I may be able to clarify some things.

I have read both articles you mentioned. It is true that both countries have very diverse populations, but they are nor necessarily paralel to each other. Alawites in Syria are as similar as it is claimed to Alevis in Turkey. Religiously speaking Alevis in Turkey represent a mixture of the Shiites and former Turkish religions, with more emphasis on the latter. As a result, they do not necessarily match well with Syrian Alawites. It is true that there is a double standard when it comes to places of worship, but it seems to me that it mainly stems from the Sunni religious establishment’s unwillingness to share the resources given to religious bureaucracy (I may be wrong on that one, it is an interpretation of what we have been hearing from both sides before the elections).

When it comes to keeping Syrian refugees away from the general population I can say with certainty that it has nothing to do with ethnic identities of both countries because that is not a concern here in Turkey. There are three reasons for that choice. Prior to and after the Gulf War (1991) Turkey experienced two large waves of Kurdish refugees from Northern Iraq and very few of these refugees returned to Iraq until now. This posed to types of problems. First, economically they increased the pressure in a region where the economy was bad (due to underdevelopment) to begin with and had become even worse following the war. Second, it is believed that at least some of them were either connected to PKK (Kurdish separatist terrorist organizaton focused on Turkey, but with members from Iraq and Syria, as well as Turkey), or facilitated the movements of the organization accross the border, creating a security threat. There is also a practical reason for the refugee camps. When the refugees are kept in camps instead of being mixed in the general population they occupy the headlines and are considered a global problem that at least the UN needs to contribute to its solution. Otherwise they become Turkey’s problem that should be dealt with Turkey’s resources.

Regarding the ethnic coalition in Syria, it is true that it relies on minority groups that do not want to be ruled by a Sunni majority, however, it would be somewhat of an exaggeration to include Kurds in that group because Kurdish groups often demanded some form of autonomy and have been regularly repressed by the regime.

The relative calm in larger cities can be attributed to the development of a middle class over the past decade, but it can also be argued that authoritarian regimes focus more heavily on large cities that have a larger potential to become a source of opposition movements.

I think the Yugoslav analogy is only wishfull thinking by Israel because a broken-up Syria does not benefit anybody, including the parts that will come out of it, other than Israel. For Israel, even though Syria is not and cannot become a military threat in the near future, they are capable of posing an indirect threat by supporting various terrorist organizations and through their diminished influence over Lebanon. It should also be taken into consideration that in a Sunni dominated Syria one of the main groups will be Muslim Brotherhood, which is more radical than their chapters in Egypt and Jordan.

I agree that the study would be an interesting one, but I do not think these countries did not have a similar enough exerience in the past to justify such a comparison. I think it may be more interesting to compare Iraq and Syria considering they were ruled by the same party (or at least ideology) for a long time, ethnically diverse, and ruled by a minority group. On the other hand, they differ on the sect that rules the country, their level of natural resources, and their neighbors (Iran and Israel). Hope this was helpful.


Kür?ad Turan Asst. Prof. Department of International Relations Gazi University Ankara – TURKEY

A cross-border comparison of political institutions and communal conflict

Two articles I have read in the last day made me think of a comparative study I wish I could do, or sponsor some students to do. And I wonder if there is anything at all like this in the literature. (It’s far from my own specialty, so I really would not know.)

Apparently, the ethnic and religious mix in the Turkish province of Hatay is very similar to that of Syria, just over the border. The recent flood of refugees fleeing the Bashar al-Assad regime’s repression is, according to a fascinating account in The Independent, stoking some tensions among the Sunni, Alevi (similar to Syria’s Alawite), and Christian communities.

The 1.5 million population of Hatay province is divided almost equally between Sunnis and Alevis with a Christian minority. St Peter’s Church at Antakiya, one of the oldest in the world, is next to an ancient Sunni mosque. Down the road is a place of worship, a cemevleri, for the Alevis.

The Syrian refugees are not being allowed to mix into the general community in Hatay province by the Turkish authorities. Even the many that have cross-border family links are being stopped from staying with their relations. They are, instead, being corralled into one of the growing number of holding centres – two more camps are being built to add to the three which have been put up in just over 10 days.

The article refers to several anecdotes regarding tensions between communities on the Turkish side.

The other article, from The Globe and Mail, is on the delicate ethnic mix inside Syria, and how the regime has held it together, at least till now. Christians, Druze and Kurds, in addition to Alawites, have tended to support the regime because of a common fear of an emboldened Sunni majority. The regime’s recent economic reforms have made an urban middle class, regardless of sect, relatively comfortable. This is given as a reason for the relative quiet in the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo (although, as noted, we can’t know how much of the quiet is simple pervasiveness of security forces). The article quotes Mordechai Kedar, a professor at Bar Ilan University, using a Yugoslav analogy and contemplating a break-up of Syria into six separate states that would be relatively homogenous compared to Syria as a whole, where 25% belong to one of the many minority groups.

This got me thinking of what an interesting research project someone could have here, caveats about the impossibility of research in Syria right now aside. The two countries, or at least specific regions of them, have similar ethnic and religious divisions. One country is an increasingly majoritarian democracy (whatever its limitations). The other is a minority-ruled police state based on a delicate balance of sectarian groups. How do the political institutions contribute to differences in the resolution (or not) of these tensions?

It is not a project I could ever carry out. But it would be great if someone could!

Turkey’s electoral system and its effect on the number and size of parties

This question that James raised in the comments to the previous planting on Turkey is a good one: how “friendly” or not is Turkey’s threshold to small parties, relative to a first-past-the-post (or plurality) system in single-seat districts?

The question can be addressed using Rein Taagepera’s “seat product.”

If all the mathematics that follow are not of interest, the reader can be advised that the conclusion of the exercise is that Turkey’s electoral system restricts the smallest party to around 50 seats at a minimum (not counting independents–addressed below). Thus it is extremely unfriendly to small parties. On the other hand, with a plurality system and the same size assembly, the smallest party could easily have one seat, and it would be a surprise if the smallest party did not have more than 10 seats. So the Turkish system is somewhere between 5 and 50 times more unfriendly to small parties than is an otherwise comparable plurality system.

OK, on to the estimates…

For reasons Taagepera explains in his 2007 Oxford University Press book, Predicting Party Sizes, we can derive the expected number of parties winning at least one seat by taking the size of the assembly (S), multiplying it by the magnitude of the average district (M), and then taking the fourth root of the product.


As also explained in Taagepera (2007) we can expect the seat share of the largest party to be, on average:

s1 = (MS)-.125 (s1 as decimal share).

Turkey has S=550 in 85 districts, resulting in average M=6.5, approximately.

With no threshold, we would then expect 7.7 parties to win at least one seat, on average. This suggests that the “average” party would have around 71 seats (550 seats divided among 7.7 parties).

The second equation suggests that the largest party would be expected to win about 36% , or 128, seats. Many parties might have 1 or a few seats only, thereby explaining an average that is well below the expected largest share. (This is almost always is the case, under any electoral system, for the obvious reason that parties vary in size.)

However, the 10% nationwide threshold keeps any party from winning fewer than about 50 seats. (10% of 550 is obviously 55, but because only the threshold is national, not the actual seat allocation, it is impossible to specify precisely what the smallest possible party size is. It would depend on how a 10% party’s votes were distributed across districts. So we can use 50 as a round estimate.)

So if the minumum number of possible seats for any party is around 50, we can take the geometric average of this figure and the theoretical maximum of 550 (when one party wins all seats), and we get an expected average number of seats of 166. Note this is about 2.3 times the size of the expected average under no threshold (71).

This suggests that, with Turkey’s 10% threshold, the average number of parties would only be around 3 (550/166=3.31). This can be double-checked by going back to the likely minimum party size, 50, and recognizing that at most 11 parties could win if all had the minimum size. The geometric average of the theoretical range from 1 party to 11 parties is 3.32. So our math checks out.

How does this check out in reality? Consider the actual number of parties winning at least one seat (p), the seat total of the largest party (s1), and the number of seats won by the smallest party (s-small), in each of the four most recent Turkish general elections.

year, p, s1, s-small
2007, 3, 341, 70
2002, 2, 363, 178
1999, 5, 136, 85
1995, 5, 158, 49
avg, 3.75, 259.5, 95.5
exp, 3.3, 273, 91**

Pretty well!

Note that I am excluding independents here. In Turkey in 2007, although not in previous elections, there were many candidates who won without formal party endorsement, but with informal support. There were 28 of them in 2007 (5.1% of all seats), a huge increase over the 9 (1.6%) that won in 2002. This is an obvious loophole of the system that makes analyzing it more challenging. But the question at hand here was how unfriendly the 10% party threshold is. Parties that can’t hope to break 10% nationally are forced to play a different game, almost as if the system were SNTV.*** Choosing to run candidates as “independents” makes it hard for a party to win more than 1 seat per (multi-seat) district–because it must practice vote division among its candidates–even where it would be quite strong if it could compete on a level playing field with the major national parties. It is interesting that the recent trend appears to be towards a larger-than-expected largest party, and more seats won by independents, many of whom are de-facto small parties using the loophole in the threshold. It may be that the system is genuinely bifurcating into two classes of parties–a hegemonic ruling party and an increasingly fragmented and personalized opposition.****

Now contrast our expectations and results of the Turkish system with a FPTP system. The seat product when M=1 is obviously equivalent to the assembly size, S. So take the fourth root of 550 and get 4.8 expected average number of seat-winning parties. With 4.8 parties dividing 550 seats, the average per party has 115 seats. This is the largest any party could be in the extremely unlikely event that all “4.8” parties had equal seat totals. The geometric average of the range of 1 to 115 is 10.7, which is where I dervied the estimate mentioned above of a smallest party in a 550-seat FPTP system of around 10 maximum, in contrast with 50 seats minimum (not an average, but a minimum number, for the smallest).

In fact, in plurality, single-seat districted systems of 400+ seats, the average number of seat-winning parties tends to exceed the estimate derived from the seat product appreciably. There have been at least 10 parties represented in each UK election since 1997, and obviously many more in the similarly sized Indian parliament. Canada almost nails its seat-product estimate, with 308 seats leading to an estimated 4.2 parties, and actually having had 4 parties in each recent parliament (and 5 in the one just elected). (The USA is most certainly not typical!) This fact only further underscores how much more favorable FPTP is to small parties than is Turkey’s system.



* The consideration of the smallest size of a party is important. As recent elections in the UK, Canada, and Australian first chambers show, a small party can concentrate its efforts on a few districts or even just one and thereby break into the system, as Greens have done in each country’s most recent election. However, in Turkey, to get to 10% nationally would require effort, and some measure of vote-winning success, in numerous districts.

** I derived the expectations on s1 and s-small under Turkey’s thresholds as follows…

s1 if there are 3.3 parties has to be at least the average (166) and at most around S-(2*s) where s is the smallest share, expected to be 50. That makes the maximum 450, and the geometric average of 166 and 450 is 273.

Seat share for the smallest is expected to be 50 at a minimum and has to be no more than 166 (for 3.3 parties). The geometric average for this range is 91.

*** That is, single non-transferable vote, in which the M seats go to the highest vote-winning candidates, regardless of party affiliation, if any. In Turkey, candidates running independently of a party list are in direct competition with (closed) party lists for a district’s seats, making it sort of like having SNTV and list-PR systems running concurrently in any district in which there is at least one party that has two or more candidates running as “independents”).

**** With a maximum of 5% of seats won by “independents” so far, we should not exaggerate this trend, but given that 13.8% of votes in 2007 were cast for party lists that fell below the national threshold, we might expect these parties to turn towards playing the “independents”/SNTV game instead of risking winning nothing.