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Tuesday, 31 July 2007

So, what's next?

Yesterday, Turkey's Electoral Commission officially confirmed the results of last Sunday's election. There are two significant alterations: AK have gained an extra seat at the expense of an independent in the far southeastern town of Hakkari. The race there was already very close, and it seems that the expatriate vote tipped the balance in the government's favour.

Also, the MHP have lost a seat after one their elected MPs was killed in a road accident while on his way to collect his seals of office. The Commission decided his seat should remain empty, rather than going to the next candidate on the MHP list.

That concludes Turkey's 16th general election. AK now have 341 seats, while the CHP has 112 and the MHP 70. Coverage of the result has been wide and varied; it takes no more than a couple of clicks to read analyses of how it has been a statement against the army, or against the secular establishment, or the end of Turkey as we know it. One particularly amusing column in the New York Post seems to think the Turkish people have willingly ushered in the Middle Ages. Fair enough - but does anyone know if I can still get a mortgage on my straw hut?

I think we've all have enough of analysis and nayesaying. It's now time to look forward. With the results confirmed, parliament will be sworn in on Saturday. Work will begin at once, and there's plenty to be done. So for those who are interested, and indeed those who are not, here's my unofficial, unadulterated take on what to expect over the next few weeks:

1. A new president
This is what triggered elections in the first place, and once parliament is sworn in and a new speaker eleted, this will be the first item on the agenda. Abdullah Gül, the AK party's candidate, has indicated he will stand again, and Deniz Baykal's CHP has reiterated they will not support him. But a repeat of April's 367 scenario seems unlikely, now that the MHP has indicated it will attend the vote.

There is, however, hope of compromise. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he will be visiting each leader individually - including Mr Baykal - to discuss candidates. The most likely outcomes seems to be Mr Gül's election as president.

2. A new consitution
A new constitution for Turkey, crafted by civilian leaders rather than military chiefs, appeared in both AK's and the MHP's manifestos, and it seems work is underway already. It's looking interesting: a lot of AK's proposals seem to involve reducing the influence of state bodies among each other. They want to largely cut the president's powers of appointment and allow his other decrees to be answerable in court.

There are proposals to further reduce the military's influence over state affairs: the National Security Council of military chiefs, for instance, would cease to be a constitutional body, and the Supreme Military Court would be regulated by the civilian courts, not the army. There are also plans to abolish mandatory religion lessons in schools.

These are all, of course, unanounced AK proposals, and will be discussed in parliament and the media before being put to any kind of vote, but it is very much work in progress.

3. Iraq
There are very real fears, now that the election is over, that Turkish troops will be sent into northern Iraq to clear out suspected PKK positions. There have been mutterings over the last few days of a joint US-Iraqi mission in the region, but that hasn't stopped fatal bomb attacks in the southeast. Patience is wearing ever more thin.

4. An EU publicity campaign
Portugal, currently holding the European Union rotating presidency, has made it one of its principal targets to put talks with Turkey back on track. It will culminate, as it has over the last couple of years, in a summit at the end of December that will assess Turkey's progress and decide whether to plod on.

Mr Erdoğan has already said that EU-oriented reforms will continue; now, with a stable majority and several years until the next election, he has the security to sell the EU to increasingly sceptical Turkish public. But the scepticism is not restricted to these shores: the anti-Turkey lobby in the EU has found new voice in French president Nicholas Sarkozy. He has indicated he wants to use this December's summit to divert the EU's relationship with Turkey to something short of membership.

5. A tumultuous opposition
Despite his refusal to resign, Deniz Baykal's position as leader of the CHP is looking shaky. Routine leadership elections are due at a party conference in the Autumn, and the arid Mustafa Sarıgül, mayor of a district in Istanbul, has said he will stand against him. There is also a growing resistance movement led by former parliament speaker Hikmet Çetin.

But it is not just about failing leaders. The Turkish political landscape remains dangerously segregated, with entrenched splits on the left, right and centre. There will need to be some drastic restructuring if the AK party is to be challenged.

These are just a few of the items on a busy summer agenda for Turkey. The country is open for business again. That can only be good news.

Monday, 23 July 2007

A resounding victory that now needs moderation

Last night, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to do what very few of his predecessors could and secured a second, larger mandate from the Turkish people. The AK party won 46.6 percent* of the vote, up from 34 percent five years ago. The main opposition CHP made gains too, moving up a point to 20.85 percent. But it was still a terrible result for Deniz Baykal's party because the bulk of the anti-AKP vote went instead to the nationalist MHP, which staged a successful recovery from its 2002 showing. It got 14.29 percent.

What was most surprising about this election was not the size of AK's victory or the crumbling CHP opposition, but the speed with which the results arrived. NTV began spurting results at 6.50pm, far earlier than the previous election. Within the hour, Mehmet Ağar had resigned as leader of the Democrat Party, citing a poor showing.

And it was indeed a poor showing for the Democrats: 5.41 was far short of the 10 percent threshold for a party that was just a few votes short of crossing it five years ago. Doing worse was Cem Uzan's Youth Party (GP), which despite its aggressive campaign failed to register anywhere. The Felicity Party (SP), the other half of the split in Islamic politics that created the AK party, won a meagre two percent. For them, this vote reinforced what most people believed: that the Turkish people aren't looking for an Islamic state.

This election saw the largest number of independent candidates to enter parliament. Among them was Mesut Yılmaz, the former prime minister who has thrown off charges of corruption stretching back to his time in power to make his return to politics. Rumour has it that he might be pushing for the vacant Democratic leadership. The leader of the right-wing Great Union Party (BBP), Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, was also elected.

Most significant among the independents are those candidates backed by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). 23 of them were elected, enough to establish a parliamentary group and make them the fourth-largest party in parliament.

So how will the new parliament look? Well, official results pending, we know that the AK should have 340 seats and the MHP 71. When the DTP reforms, they will wield 23 seats and when, as is expected, Mr Yazıcıoğlu rejoins his party, the BBP will have a seat too. A seat should also go to a third independent from the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP).

But what of the CHP? They are projected to have 112 seats, down from 178 they won five years ago, but that is before we take into account the alliance with the Democratic Left Party (DSP). Under the agreement, 13 DSP candidates were to run on the CHP ticket and break away after entering parliament. If they follow through, the CHP will have fewer than a hundred MPs.

Here's how things look:

AKP: 340   DSP: 13
CHP:  99   BBP: 1
MHP:  71   ÖDP: 1
DTP:  23   Ind: 2

For Mr Erdoğan, it is nothing short of a spectacular victory. This morning's papers have called it "the people's memorandum", a reference to the army's warning a few months ago. Foreign news sources say it shows the Turkish people don't agree with warnings that the secular establishment is under threat.

For the CHP, things are grim. The DSP factor makes things look even worse. Mr Baykal has not shown his face since casting his vote in Antalya yesterday morning, and there were angry protests when an official appeared outside party headquarters last night to make a statement to the press. There are calls for Mr Baykal's resignation, even from the traditionally supportive Cumhuriyet newspaper. He might well go but, as one my wiser elders pointed out to me on the phone last night, there's every chance he might come back. He certainly has a habit of doing so.

AK's victory has exposed the weakness of Turkey's opposition: they are simply not organised enough. Hope of unity on the right wing failed after a last minute brawl, and Mr Ağar's Democrats paid for it bitterly with a vote share lower than any of its predecessor parties. The left wing CHP-DSP alliance, meanwhile, is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bypass the electoral threshold. Even the nationalist vote is split, although Devlet Bahçeli's MHP has shown remarkable success in winning back votes from the GP.

In his victory speech last night, Mr Erdoğan made all the right noises: he said the European Union was still their guide for reform, he said they would not shirk from the Republic's basic principles, and he even led his delighted audience in a chant of "one nation, one country, one flag, one state". That should placate the secularist elite for now.

The prime minister might have shown he is not being complacent, but that does not mean he is never going to be. The AK victory should not go unchecked; a credible opposition is a vital part of any democracy. This is why the CHP must drastically reform both itself and Turkish social democracy. I suggest they start with their leader.

* according to results that won't be officially confirmed until next week.
Photo from NTVMSNBC.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Vote 2007: The fall of the Turkish left

As things stand, tongiht is looking like a better result for Turkey than 2002. The AK's mandate is greater, but their power has been curbed. A third party is guaranteed to enter parliament (MHP) and a fourth is set to appear (DTP), which means more Turks have their votes represented. And the CHP might just be forced into badly-needed reorganistion.

An analyst on NTV has just declared Turkey to be "the only major European country not to have a significant political force on the left wing". Now at 9pm, with just about four-fifths of the votes counted, it looks like an accurrate assessment.

The CHP is set to win around 20 percent of the vote, give or take a couple of percent. As is stands, it is a slight improvement on their position of 2002, when they received 19 percent. But the AK's increased majority and the MHP's entry into parliament means that the CHP are to lose a drastic number of seats - the latest NTV projection gives them 110 seats, a loss of 68. And let us not forget that the CHP's seat tally includes that of the Democratic Left Party, which has said it would break away to form its own group after the elections. In short, it is difficult not to call the CHP the big losers in this election.

My ideal presidential candidate, Hikmet Çetin, is also on NTV. He has interpreted the result as "a lack of achievement for the opposition, rather than an accomplishment for the AKP".

The MHP have been remarkably successful. It is no small feat to double your vote of five years ago, when Devlet Bahçeli's party won just 8.34 percent. It seems unlikely that they will reach their historical high of nearly 18 percent, set in 1999, but they are forecast to win around seventy seats.

Another point to note are those independent MP candidates supported by the DTP. Private television stations here are projecting 23 DTP independents will be entering parliament, which would be enough for them to form a parliamentary group. The electoral system does make it rather difficult, however, to predict the share of the vote for specific independent candidates, so these might be the last results we receive.

In all of this, however, what has not been mentioned is the AK party, and the sheer size of their victory. AK's share of the vote has increased by as much as 13 percent, which is nearly a third. They have already become the only governing party in half a century to increase its share of the vote. The MHP's arrival means that AK are in the awkward position of losing seats despite its increased majority, but this should be no more than twenty seats.

I don't think the magnitude of their can be exaggerated easily. Out of Turkey's 81 provinces, AK is leading in 68 of them, and is second in twelve of them. Only in the eastern province of Tunceli, where independents are leading and the CHP is second, has the AK been pushed into third place. This demonstrates how much of a national party AK have become. As Mr Çetin pointed out on NTV, "only (AK leader) Erdoğan and (Democrat party leader) Ağar campaigned east of Sivas." The CHP and MHP were conspicuously absent in the east.

Deniz Baykal must be a worried man.

Vote 2007: March of the independents

This election has seen nearly 700 independent candidates across the country. Never before in a Turkish election have there been so many. With the AK party's victory just about certain, it might be interesting to note that at least six independents have entered parliament already.

Among them is the former prime minister Mesut Yılmaz, who was running as a candidate from the Black Sea town of Rize. He is a former member of the centre-right Motherland Party - given his MP status, he could be a candidate for leadership of the Democrat Party, which has literally been vacated in the last hour.

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, co-leaders of the Kurdish DTP, have also entered parliament. The size of their DTP contingent remains to be seen. An interesting pro-Kurdish name is Sebahat Tuncel, who is running in Istanbul but is currently serving a prison sentence - she has also guaranteed a seat.

Elsewhere, the AK party are doing extremely well in the Aegean, a part of Turkey that is traditionally secularist and, by consequence, pro-CHP. The CHP have pulled ahead in Izmir, but are suffering considerable losses elsewhere, and it seems that the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is shaping out to be the alternative party of choice to the AK party.

NTV's prediction at 8.20pm forecasts AK will have 342 seats (down 21), CHP: 111 (down 67), MHP: 73 (up 73) and 24 independent seats.

Things to watch out for:

1 - The second placed party. The AK victory is almost certain, but the CHP's position as the main opposition party is looking very shaky. Officials at CHP headquarters are said to be "stunned".

2 - The size of the AK party majority. It looks likely that AK will be able to govern alone, but with three parties now guaranteed to enter parliament, both the AKP and the CHP will return with fewer seats than they won in 2002.

3 - The southeast. The number of those independent MPs who have vowed to join the DTP upon election cannot be predicted yet. They are aiming for at least twenty, so they can form a parliamentary group, which would give them added weight.

Vote 2007: Democrat resignation

Mehmet Ağar, leader of the Democrat Party, has just resigned. It seems certain his party won't cross the election threshold.

I have to admit I wasn't expecting the resignation so soon. Hüsamettin Cindoruk, who used to be parliament speaker during the administration of a Democrat Party predecessor, wasn't expecting it quite so quickly either: "He could have at least waited until midnight".

It's not even eight o'clock yet. This may not be the only resignation we see tonight.

Vote 2007: Three parties in parliament

CNN Turk are predicting a win for the AK party with 46.88 percent of the vote, with a 1.5 percent error margin. Here is the result put together by the reputable Konda poll company:

AKP 46.88
CHP 18.12
MHP 15.74
Independents 6.03
DP 5.28
GP 3.11

NTV says the turnout was 81 percent, up from 74.3 percent in 2002. And this in spite of temperatures above 35 degrees in most parts of the country.

NTV also says that with 47.9 percent of the ballots counted, AK have a national share of 48.8 percent. Second is the CHP on 18.1, third is the MHP on 14.6, which would mean the AK, CHP and MHP have all crossed the election threshold. This will be a parliament of at least three parties.

Meanwhile, Turkish state television is being surprisingly frugal in its results service. TRT reports only 10 percent of votes counted, while the private stations say almost half are counted. Does someone smell an anomaly?

Vote 2007: An AK sweep - already

Striken by food poisoning, I'm seated in front of my television watching the results of Turkey's 16th general election roll in. It makes exciting watching.

As of 7.15pm local time, around a third of all votes have been counted. Here are the major developments:

1 - The incumbent AK party has a 50.4 percent share of all votes counted so far. This means the government has crossed the 10% election threshold already.

2 - The main opposition CHP is leading in Turkey's third largest city, Izmir, and in Izmir only. AK is very close behind.

3 - In a number of provinces in the southeast, including Diyarbakır, independent candidates are leading. The AK party is second. The provinces in the southeast are significant because most of the independent candidates are supported by the predominantly Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), in an attempt to bypass the threshold.

However, the sweep of independent candidates across the southeast is not universal. In some provinces, such as Mardin and Şırnak, the AK party has taken the lead.

4 - As it stands, most of these results are from Turkey's eastern provinces, where polls closed an hour earlier. Barely a tenth of votes have been counted in Turkey's three biggest cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

NTV's exit poll predicts a 45 percent victory for the AK party, with the CHP on 20 percent and the nationalist MHP on 14 percent. With three parties crossing the threshold, this would reduce the number of seats presently held by the AK and the CHP, but AK would still be able to govern alone.

More comments soon.

Monday, 9 July 2007


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told this morning's Akşam that he wanted Turkey's next president to be elected by parliament from a list of compromise candidates. He said he would visit other political party leaders with the list if necessary, and added: "They (critics) told me I should have previously come forward with multiple candidates, not just the one. We can do that. We will seek compromise over a list of candidates that the constitution finds appropriate."

His words come after similar - but separate - words from main opposition leader Deniz Baykal. Mr Erdoğan was quick to say that while the 11th president, successor to the current incumbent, would be elected by parliament, the 12th president will "definitely" be elected by the people. Mr Baykal has made no such commitment.

The prime minister also said the president's powers would be restricted: "The president's powers will be narrowed, like in Austria and Finland. Prime Ministers are the ones who answer to the people, but it is they who are obstructed on every path. A strengthened prime ministry system is on the way."

As an electoral pledge, we will have to make do with this for now. Turkey is in need of major institutional change, and the leader of the party most likely to win the election has promised to deliver it. It is time, finally, to put the presidential election to one side. It is time to concentrate instead on who should lead Turkey into the next decade.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Onwards to referendum

The Constitutional Court ruled this evening that the Turkish people should be allowed to decide whether they want to elect their own president. It comes after President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the main opposition CHP formally complained about the way the proposal was voted through parliament. The Court's decision is final: the Turkish people will be going to vote in a referendum in October at the very latest.

The ruling was always going to be a controversial one - this very blog saw a very heated discussion on the legalities surrounding the dispute - and the voting margin was as narrow it gets: six of the eleven high judges voted in favour of scrapping the complaint. Five were against.

My regular readers will know this was not the decision I was expecting, having lost considerable faith in the judiciary. But this was the right decision, and there is no need to wave a copy of the constitution about to understand why. An unelected body should not stop the Turkish people from choosing what they want to do. There is no democratic argument for it.

What happens next really depends on who wins the general election. If the AK party is returned to power, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government might try again to pass a law that reduces the waiting time for a referendum to 45 days. That law has been vetoed by Mr Sezer once before; it would be near-comical if he decided to put a law about referendums to a referendum.

If the AK party does not win the election, some experts say the new government might try to elect Mr Sezer's successor in parliament, using the existing system. But AK will probably still have enough seats to boycott and derail the process, just like the CHP did in April. Every lawyer has a different opinion.

All this, of course, is little more than speculation. It is not clear what the parliament will look like after July 22nd. What is clear is that Turkey's constitution, drafted by the army in 1982, is drastically insufficient in coping with democratic crises. We need a new one.

We might just get it. AK's election manifesto pledges a "civilian constitution" prepared with consultation and compromise. Mehmet Ağar's Democrat Party and even the far-right Nationalist Action Party have made similar promises. But the CHP and the nationalist Youth Party have both kept quiet.

What needs to happen over the remainder of this summer is for Turkey's new parliament to elect a new president under the existing system, so that Mr Sezer's term can finally end and stability can finally return to the pyramid's peak. The new government should then set to work on a new constitution that overhauls the entire system. The president would then act as a transitional figure until 2012, when the next head of state would be elected by the people. Turkey's transition to a country truly operating under the rule of law would then be complete.

And once again, unrelenting as I am, I nominate Hikmet Çetin to oversee that transition.


James on Turkey has been taking a break for the last couple of weeks, owing to other commitments. I should return shortly with a full look at the coming elections, hopefully beginning with today's expected ruling from the Constitutional Court. Watch this space.