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Turkey - 2015 Election

On 07 June 2015, Turkish citizens headed to the polls to elect Deputies to the 550-member Grand National Assembly (Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi, or TBMM). The most overriding issue in the campaign was the transformation of the political system towards presidential, as advocated by the President and the ruling party and opposed by other contestants. Socio-economic issues, the Kurdish-Turkish peace process and the on-going situation in the Middle East were also widely debated. With electoral victories in the previous three TBMM contests, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had announced its intent to instate a presidential system in Turkey.

The support the AKP received in the elections would determine to a large extent the party's ability to enact the necessary constitutional amendments and the contours of Turkey's political system. The AKP needed to increase its number of seats to a minimum of 330 in order to hold a referendum on the issue, or 367 seats (a two-thirds majority) to enact such amendments without a referendum.

Opinion polls indicated the HDP was hovering around the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament. If the HDP was successful the 50 or more seats it could secure would come at the expense of the ruling the AK Party, its chief rival in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Analysts say those seats could be the difference between AK Party retaining or losing its majority.

Every Turkish opposition political party voiced concern the country's June 7th election could be marred by vote tampering. A recent opinion poll found nearly half the electorate fear the election could be rigged.

The outgoing 550-member parliament is composed of the AKP with 311 seats, the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) with 125 seats, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 52 seats and the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) with 29 seats. The Anatolia Party, the Democratic Regions Party, the Electronic Democracy Party, the Centre Party, the Nation and Justice Party all held one seat each. A total of 13 independent members were represented and 15 seats were vacant.

The campaign environment was marked by active engagement on substantive issues by the contestants, involving a large number of voters in campaign events. Polarization between the ruling party and other contestants was notable and confrontational campaign rhetoric was often used.

Turkeys ruling AK Party lost its absolute majority in parliamentary elections - a stunning defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bid to rewrite the nation's constitution and create a presidential democracy. The results would force Erdogan's party to form a coalition government for the first time since he took power in 2002. Thirteen years of the AK Party dominating parliament with crushing majorities were over. While AKP remained the largest party in parliament, it suffered heavy losses.

It was on track to win 258 seats in the 550-member parliament - well short of an absolute majority. A faltering economy was cited as a key factor behind the losses after a decade of unprecedented economic growth for Turkey. But it was the success of the pro-Kurdish HDP, in breaking through the 10 percent vote count threshold, that did the most damage to the AK Party. The around 79 seats it secured will come almost exclusively from the governing party, its chief rival in the Kurdish regions.

AKP could try to form a coalition government, possibly with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Analysts say it is unlikely, but a broad opposition coalition could also be formed. If these possibilities fail, Erdogan could call for another parliamentary election.

The prospect of coalition government were greeted by heavy falls in both the currency and stock markets. With the country heavily dependent on financial inflows due to a large current account deficit, analysts warned that a protracted period of political instability could trigger an economic crisis.

An assessment was made to determine whether the elections complied with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE] commitments and Council of Europe standards, as well as international obligations for democratic elections and with domestic legislation. The 7 June parliamentary elections were characterized by active and high citizen participation, during the campaign and on election day, which demonstrated a broad commitment to holding democratic elections. Voters could choose from a wide range of political parties, but the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold limits political pluralism.

Media freedom is an area of serious concern; media and journalists critical of the ruling party were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign. The elections were organized professionally in general. Greater transparency of the election administration and legal provisions for observers, both citizen and international, would serve to increase trust in the electoral process. During the campaign, fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Unfortunately, there were numerous serious incidents, some resulting in fatalities.

Twenty parties and 165 independent candidates took part in the elections, offering the electorate a wide choice. Contestants were generally able to campaign freely and did so extensively. However, there were isolated cases of cancellation or restrictions of rallies of the opposition parties in favor of events organized for the President or the Prime Minister. Two criminal court orders for removal of certain opposition posters deemed to be insulting to the President were issued. The campaign was tainted by a high number of attacks on party offices and serious incidents of physical attacks.

Freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, as well as active and passive suffrage rights are to some extent unduly restricted in the Constitution and the general legislation. In particular, the fact that insult of the President is a criminal offence restricts freedom of speech and campaigning.

The President played an active role in the election campaign, even though under the Constitution he is obliged to be non-partisan and perform his duties without bias. The President attended an extraordinary number of public events, as head of state, along with local officials, however, these events were used as opportunities to campaign in favour of the ruling party and to criticize opposition figures. Numerous complaints calling to halt the Presidents campaign activities and misuse of administrative resources, including extensive coverage on state television were filed. The Presidents campaigning contravened campaign rules in the legal framework and is at odds with paragraph 5.4 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document and Section I.2.3a of the Council of Europe Venice Commission Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (Code of Good Practice).

No coalition government in Turkey has ever successfully completed its term in office. The threat of early elections will make it more difficult for any coalition government to introduce necessary but unpopular economic measures.




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