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Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Not a very normal threshold

The European Court of Human Rights reported back yesterday on the case of Mehmet Yumak and Resul Sadak, who had taken Turkey to the court over the 10 percent electoral threshold. Both Mr Yumak and Mr Sadak were candidates for DEHAP - the predominantly Kurdish People's Democratic Party - in the 2002 general election. They stood in the province of Şırnak and won a considerable majority, nearly 46 percent, but did not enter parliament in Ankara because their party failed to cross the 10 percent national electoral threshold (see "Will the electoral threshold ever fall?").

The injustice of the threshold is plain: after that 2002 election, around 45 percent of Turkish voters found their vote didn't really count. All five of the parties that had vaulted the barrier three years previously this time stumbled at it. They included the three parties that had been in government. True, they were all subject to an overwhelming protest vote, but they still did have around eight million votes - nearly a fifth of all those cast - between them. Add to that the ballots for the other parties that failed to cross the threshold, and you get nearly 14 million votes. That is almost one in every two votes disregarded. Never in the history of Turkish democracy have so many been represented by so few.

All this was why I rather stunned when I saw this morning's headline in Türkiye: "European Court of Human Rights say 10% threshold is normal". The ECHR surely couldn't have ruled in favour of a measure that smothers broad representation - could it?

It seems it could, although I have to make one thing clear: the Court did not refer to the threshold as normal. In fact, in the text of its judgement, it says it considers it "very regrettable to prevent political parties which represent millions of voters from entering the national legislature". The threshold, the Court says, is "twice as high as the European average" and there is a lack of corrective counterbalances to ensure the free expression of all people, however they voted.

But the Court does also say that it cannot order the lowering of the barrier. Electoral barriers are in place in many other European democracies, and although Turkey's is among the highest, the Court has no specific threshold law on which it can depend, nor any examples it can suggest.

So that's that. The ECHR has avoided wading into the debate, and the Turkish press has chosen to interpret it as an approval of the barrier. Radikal's headline, for instance, is "ECHR visa for 10 percent threshold". But closer inspection of the judgement text reveals the Court's real thinking: "the electoral system, including the threshold in question, is the subject of much debate within Turkish society and ... numerous proposals of ways to correct the threshold’s effects are being made both in parliament and among leading figures of civil society".

That is perhaps the most important sentence in the entire document. The electoral threshold is wrong, yes, and it needs to be lowered, yes. But it is not a problem that will be solved with an instinct order from a distant court. The threshold can only be lowered in Turkey, by Turkish politicians. The more pressing question is whether it will happen before this November's elections.

For the Court's judgement in full, visit their website at http://www.echr.coe.int and search for Yumak and Sadak v. Turkey (application no. 10226/03).

3 comments:

istanbultory said...

As far as I am aware, it is the highest electoral threshold certainly in Europe if not the world. Most countries impose a threshold of around 4-6% and seem not to degenerate into civil war and chaos....

super hero said...

the reason for this treshold is to avoid too many political parties getting into the parliament, which is not a very bad thing actually.

but the treshold system fails to merge a parliement which represents the citizens in a fair way, as the the situation described in this blog. but there is another aspect of it. in this system people who are not so much wanted in the parliement can be a representative of ther nation too. simply because having %40 of the votes also mean that %60 doesnt want you. and AKP is the ruling party today with the %40 overall votes.

i think a double voting system would be much better. in the second leg only the two (or maybe three for the sake of a better democracy) parties would be allowed so that te citizens will know who is going to be in the parliement if they vote or do not vote for a particular party or a candidate.

baris said...

I would like to see what happens when all the parties remain below the threshold. It was almost possible in 2002, if the AKP did not exist. "This is Turkey", and 11 parties may have 9% vote each, which means none enters to the parliament. Or what happens if only the AKP passes the threshold? I think the problem will be solved then.