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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

MHP chauvinism: make your wife vote for us

News from the bastion of Turkey's right wing: the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is on the prowl for the female vote. It appears, according to this story from Habertürk (via NTV), that it has finally dawned upon the party leadership that their support base is overwhelmingly male. At the last election, the MHP appears to have learned, the six million votes it received were not equally split between women and men. In fact, fewer than two million women voted them.

This shouldn't be news to anyone other than the MHP. The party leadership has spent years ignoring opinion polls telling them that their support base is overwhelmingly patrilineal. This gender inequality is reflected in the party leadership: Devlet Bahçeli's top team is almost all male. Indeed, many have speculated he himself is an Edward Heath-esque bachelor. The division can also be seen in parliament, where just two of the party's 70 MPs are women.

The MHP's explanation for this electoral deficit comes from its deputy leader, Osman Çakır: our voters' wives aren't voting for us.

"Either these four million men are bachelors, or their wives aren't voting for us," Haberturk quotes him as saying. "A large majority of these men cannot be bachelors, which means votes have not come to the MHP from the women in these households."

Astonishingly, he goes on: "That is why we joke among ourselves by saying 'these men don't treat their wives well, so they react by voting for another party. If they treated them better, this wouldn't be the case'."

Turkish women are woefully under-represented in parliament. The MHP's two token MPs are at the bottom of the pile. The ruling AK Party and opposition CHP have slightly better ratios - nine and eight percent of their parliamentary parties respectively are women - although there are only two women in the cabinet. Both AK and the CHP have pledged to increase female representation at the next election, but it seems unlikely they'll reach the standard set by the pro-Kurdish BDP: one-third of its MPs are women.

Meanwhile, the message to MHP men is clear: treat your women better, because your political party is at stake.

The party leadership is planning to launch its campaign on 28 January under the slogan "Raise your voice, Turkey", when a number of electoral pledges aimed at women - state support for childcare and maternity leave - will be announced.

Last week in my prediction piece for the upcoming election, I said Turkey needed a third party in parliament, and that the MHP should cross the electoral threshold. But with the likes of Mr Çakır in the party, it isn't always that easy to support that.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Who will win Turkey's next general election?

Some astonishing news for you: Turkey's parliament is playing by the rules. That's right. The Grand National Assembly is preparing for an election at the scheduled time.(*) For the first time in decades, longer than most of us can remember, Turkish people will not be dragged to the ballot box because of an exodus of MPs from the ruling party, or a collapsed coalition, or a military intervention. No, the 2011 general election will take place because the rulebook, Turkey's constitution, says it is time for one.

You could say this is a sign of more stable, predictable times in Turkish politics. To a certain extent, you would be right. With six months to go until voting day it looks like AK, the party of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister, is set to win a third consecutive victory.

That shouldn't surprise many people. Mr Erdoğan's party has a solid record of progress, and it would take someone quite obstinate to argue Turkish people are not better off now than when AK came to power in 2002. Opinion polls suggest the ruling party is likely to win around 45 percent of the vote, close to what they got last time.

But even though the victor is already pretty clear, it is an important election for Turkey. This is what I will be watching out for over the coming six months:

1) Distribution of seats in the new parliament

An AK victory might appear inevitable, but the size of that victory is far from certain. One reason for this is the resurgence of the main opposition CHP. Their newish leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been working to collect the anti-AK vote under one roof, and has had some success in broadening his party's appeal to voters who supported the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) at the last election.

Analysts believe that if the CHP can win 30 percent of the vote (up from 20 percent in 2007), they can seriously dent AK's chances of governing alone by winning enough seats to rival them in the chamber.

AK's target is for at least 50 percent of the popular vote. CHP are aiming "to govern alone". Both seem quite far-fetched at this stage, but both objectives reflect the two parties' urgency to win as many seats as possible.

2) The fate of the nationalists

Turkey's electoral system operates a 10 percent threshold. If a party's national share of the vote does not cross that line, it cannot be represented in parliament, regardless of how well they do in individual provinces. As I blogged yonks ago, it's too high and needs to be lowered, but it has helped the AK Party win two crushing parliamentary majorities. Unsurprisingly, they aren't about to kick away the ladder that carried them up to where they are.

AK and the CHP are probably both going to cross the threshold this year, but the same can't be said for the MHP. Polls suggest Devlet Bahçeli's party is in trouble. By some estimates, they may crash below the threshold and out of parliament. That would be in the interests of the two larger parties, giving both of them more seats to play with.

It would not be in the interests of democratic representation. Just over half - 55 percent - of Turkish voters were represented in parliament after the 2002 election because AK and the CHP were the only parties who crossed the threshold. MHP joined them after the 2007 election, meaning that four in every five votes, a better proportion, were represented. Turkey is too pluralistic for at two-party system. A third party must cross.

Nonetheless, all three parties have been stepping up the nationalist rhetoric in recent weeks, which might explain Mr Erdoğan's bizarre intervention to tear down a statue near the Armenian border or his recent war of words with German chancellor Angela Merkel over her recent visit to the Greek side of Cyprus. Expect Israel or the EU to come up before long.

3) What will the prime minister do next?

This is the biggie. Mr Erdoğan has already said that this next term will be his last as leader of his party. He has spoken somewhat wistfully of disappearing somewhere quiet and warm to write his memoirs, but most commentators reckon he has ambitions for the next rung of the ladder - the presidency.

Whether he can achieve this depends on what happens to the incumbent, his former deputy Abdullah Gül. When Mr Gül was elected by parliament in 2007, it was for a single seven-year term, much like his predecessors. But one month later the constitution was amended by referendum: Turkish presidents are now elected - by the people, not parliament - for a maximum two five-year terms.

It is still not clear whether Mr Gül's term of office will measured by the old rules under which he was elected, or the new rules that replaced them. He could have to stand for re-election as early as next year, or serve until 2014. Of course, Mr Erdoğan could start work after the parliamentary election on a new constitution that changes the system entirely - rumours abound of a French-style presidential system, which Mr Erdoğan is understood to covet.

4) The date and the candidates

Sunday 12 June is everyone's best guess for voting day, supported by both CHP and MHP. The government has until March to fire the starting gun, however, and chances are they'll take their time.

In the meantime, the parties have been thinking about their candidates for parliament. Political parties in Turkey are extremely centralised, with every list - 81 of them, one for every province - being personally endorsed by the party leader. In 2007, AK notoriously culled large numbers of its 2002 intake to make way for those who had curried greater favour, and could do the same again.

Interesting names are being banded about, too. Erkan Mumcu - a former AK minister who held the key for Mr Gül's first presidential run, dropped it, then disappeared into nothingness - is reportedly considering a run on the MHP ticket.

An interesting few months await.

(*) Well, nearly. Following the 2007 referendum, Turkish terms of parliament were reduced from five years to four, which means this year's election should be held on 22 July, but given that people last time were queuing in temperatures above 35°C last time, voting looks likely to be brought forward a month.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Martians 'invade Turkey', Court dismisses case

One of the amendments brought in by last September's referendum on constitutional change was the right for Turkish citizens to apply directly to the Constitutional Court, the highest judicial body in the land. The court tended to busy itself with constitutional disputes, such as whether the ruling AK Party should be closed down, and only accepted applications from politicians and the like.

Now, the Constitutional Court will be an additional level of appeal for ordinary Turkish citizens who feel their cases were not adequately handled by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal. The move has been hailed as an emancipation, a Great Leap Forward for Turkish citizen rights and a way for a court so often seen as aloof to connect with ordinary people.

How fitting, then, that the first ever "ordinary" application to the court has come from someone claiming his mind has been invaded by Martians.

"I suspect my mind has been invaded by Martians," NTVMSNBC reports the applicant as saying. "I have evidence to support this. Please intervene."

Regretfully, the applicant has been sent a response saying Martian coercion is outside the Constitutional Court's remit. It's a shame: we may never know what the evidence was.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Time, gentlemen: Efes Pilsen, Turkey's top basketball team, is forced off court

Turkey's most successful basketball team found out yesterday that it must change its name or close down because it shares its name with an alcoholic beverage. The team falls foul of new laws passed by parliament that broaden the ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising to the naming of sports clubs. Efes Pilsen, the team named after Turkey's most popular beer, is the most prominent victim of the new rules.

Alcohol has a long history of sport sponsorship around the world. One Canadian brewer that backed England's football Premier League for years now has its name splashed all over the Carling Cup competition, whilst rugby union's Heineken Cup would be an entirely different affair without that famous Dutch beer. It's happened in Turkey too: Efes Pilsen and Tuborg are two examples of teams carrying their sponsor companies' names.

Turkey's latest alcohol advertising ban is not unusual. France, where the Heineken Cup is abbreviated to the "H Cup", also restricts alcohol sponsorship in sport. But critics say the Turkish version was passed to placate the pious supporters of the governing party. The AK Party is mildly Islamic, to put it, well, mildly, and few doubt that some sections of its voting base would happily see alcohol banned in the country entirely. Council leaders have often spoken of plans to move all licenced restaurants and bars within their town to an allocated zone, effectively a red light district, and to issue a ban outside it. Nor is the trend restricted to excitable local politicians. The cabinet has not been shy to raise the consumption tax on booze - it increased by as much as 30 percent last October, much to the chagrin of consumers such as the Turkish Wine Forum.

Efes Pilsen now has a year to change its name, and it's not clear what route the team is going to take. Anadolu, Efes's parent company, has signalled it might pull out of basketball entirely. That would be a tragedy, depriving Turkish basketball of its most successful team ever: Efes Pilsen has won the national league 13 times and has a European title under its belt too. Another possibility is to drop Pilsen from the name, so as to become Efes Istanbul or Efes Anadolu. A third option would be to merge forces with an existing club - Beşiktaş Efes, anyone?

UPDATE (09 January, 2pm): An internet campaign, "Kulübüme dokunma - Don't touch my club" has appeared collecting signatures against the new law. See it at kulubumedokunma.com.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Things we already knew: Kılıçdaroğlu better than Baykal

There's been a smattering of coverage in the Turkish press of a public opinion survey that paints the leader of Turkey's main opposition party in better light than his predecessor. "The Kılıçdaroğlu vaccine has worked" trumpets today's Cumhuriyet, a staunchly secular newspaper. 68 percent of the party's voters think its new leader is more successful, while 13 percent prefer former leader Deniz Baykal, it reports. So far, so good for Mr Kılıçdaroğlu?

Possibly. Trouble is, that was the easy part. Many party members - and many others outside the party, like this blog - were so disillusioned about the CHP's direction and agenda under the previous leadership that a change at the top was seen as the only way forward. So not being Mr Baykal had already guaranteed Mr Kılıçdaroğlu points.

New leaders of major political parties tend to experience a public opinion bounce. Mr Kılıçdaroğlu's honeymoon period was particularly short: events in the eastern Mediterranean involving a certain flotilla put paid to that. In the months that followed, the new leader's challenge was to win over his party, a party whose leader had gone, but whose old guard remained. It appears quite clear, following a period of internal skulduggery that culminated in a stormy party congress late last year, that Mr Kılıçdaroğlu now has that steady grip on the CHP leadership.

Some of these poll results will be encouraging to him. 53 percent of respondents think CHP was a "revolutionary" (awkward word, I know) party, as against 33 percent who say it represented the status quo. That result would certainly have been the other way around during the Baykal era. There were also positive responses when asked whether the CHP leadership was "in touch with the people": more than 9 percent name him as the politician they most admire, ahead of Devlet Bahçeli, who has led the third-placed Nationalist Action Party for donkey's years, and well ahead of Mr Baykal's best results.

However, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was only third in the popularity contest. Prime Minister Erdoğan was first (22 percent) and President Abdullah Gül second (10 percent), which illustrates the scale of his next challenge: winning over the country. A majority of Metropoll's respondents (56 percent) believe Mr Kılıçdaroğlu and his team can not lead the CHP to power, and an overwhelming 72 percent do not believe the party could solve the Kurdish issue.

The next challenge, then, is for Mr Kılıçdaroğlu to win over the country. He has recorded a modest improvement in his party's standing, as the latest Metropoll survey shows, but the governing AK Party remains firmly in the lead. He has six months to prove his worth.

Metropoll interviewed 1504 people in 31 Turkish provinces between 25 and 29 December 2010. The full survey can be found here.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Opinion poll suggests huge gains for CHP; hollow victory for AK Party

Metropoll's latest opinion poll* just over a week ago asked, among other things, for voting intention. Here are the topline percentages, with changes from the 2009 local election:
AK Party: 45.3 (+6.5) [Justice and Development Party, governing, religious conservative]
CHP: 30.7 (+7.3) [Republican People's Party, secularist]
MHP: 13.8 (+0.3) [Nationalist Action Party, nationalist]
BDP: 6.5 (+2.7) [Peace and Democracy Party, pro-Kurdish]
SP: 1.3 (-0.3)** [Felicity Party, strongly Islamist]
DP: 0.6 (-0.5) [Democrat Party, centre-right]
HAS Party: 0.8 (-2.9)** [People's Voice Party, split from SP]
Others: 0.5
These findings suggest a flock in support towards the four mainstream parties. This is interesting considering we are probably just over six months away from a general election, and Turkish political parties tend to proliferate - rather than unite - around this time.

If this were replicated at a general election, this would be a substantial stride forward for the CHP and its best result in 34 years. For other parties, this poll appears to reproduce the 2007 election result: the governing AK Party stages a recovery from its poor local election showing two years ago, whereas the MHP records a small drop in support that is within the margin of error. All other parties, save the BDP whose members will probably run as independents, fall below the 10 percent threshold.

So how would parliament look in such a scenario? Interestingly, despite the similarities in vote proportions to 2007, the seat distribution would look remarkably different:***
AK Party: 265 seats (-70)
CHP: 180 seats (+79)
MHP: 85 seats (+15)
BDP: 20 seats (no change)
The AK Party would shed around a fifth of its seats and lose its governing majority in the process. The CHP, meanwhile, would be far from able to govern alone and would seriously struggle to lead a coalition with these numbers, but would still become the single largest opposition party AK have ever seen. But why?

The answer lies in vote representation. In 2007, 89 percent of Turks voted for parties and independent candidates who ended up being represented in parliament. Under this poll, the figure would be 96.3 percent. If the findings of this opinion poll are correct, it represents an exodus of voters from the smaller parties. It suggests Turks are aware their vote is less likely to be represented if they don't vote big.

* Metropoll interviewed 1504 people in 31 Turkish provinces between 25 and 29 December 2010. The full survey can be found here.

** The HAS Party split off from the SP late last year. Figures for both parties are compared to SP's 2009 local election result.
*** The above is a crude and entirely unscientific swing, assuming the 10 percent electoral threshold is not lowered and the pro-Kurdish BDP's 20 MPs decide to run again as independents, this poll would roughly produce the following seat distribution in parliament (with changes from the present situation).