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…