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Monday, 18 February 2013

Turkey's next election: the CHP's challenge

Here’s a prediction that won’t astonish anyone: the CHP will not win Turkey’s next general election in two years’ time.

A victory for the main opposition party is a monumentally difficult thing to achieve not just because of the party’s current leadership woes, but because the governing AK Party has a solid hold on power.

A Metropoll survey at the end of December, which showed a near-uniform swing in support away from the three main parties, reported a full 25 per cent of voters saying they are undecided on who to support, or would spoil their ballot or not vote at all.  Granted, we are at that stage when the next election is years away and the last one a distant memory, but such large voter apathy in a country where election day turnouts average between 80 and 90% is remarkable.

Among respondents who said they definitely would vote, Metropoll found AK Party support had slumped to 39.1%, a full ten percentage points below its landslide 2011 election result. The survey also showed a drop in support for the CHP (17.6%, down nine points) and the Nationalist Movement Party  (MHP, 9.8% percent).

But despite each party’s reduced support, this survey should look rather familiar. A clear AK Party lead that doubles the CHP’s support and an MHP that struggles to cross the 10 per cent electoral threshold is the 2011 general election all over again.

For a projection of how these results would be reflected in parliament, see this:

This is a uniform swing projection and inherently crude. It ignores a number of important factors: regional variation (the change in vote share wouldn’t be identical around the country); Kurdish support (this projection assumes the same 35 independent MPs as in 2011) and local issues, which can produce a result against the national trend.

However, it is still useful because it produces a result based on changes to the last election result in each electoral district. It takes the national change in vote share for each party, runs the D’Hondt calculation method in each of the 84 districts, then adds up all 550 seats.

The result is not very different from 2011. The AK Party loses seven seats; two to the CHP, five to the MHP, which gets the greater windfall because the D’Hondt method favours smaller parties. Nothing hugely remarkable so far.

More interesting is where the AK Party lost those seven seats. These are the government’s most vulnerable marginals, the seats they most narrowly won at the last election and are most likely to lose next time.

Highlighted in red: Adana, Bursa, Mersin, Istanbul (1st district), Izmir (1st), Kayseri and Ordu.

Now, some of these electoral districts are huge. Istanbul alone sent 82 MPs to parliament at the last election. D’Hondt favours smaller parties, meaning that a large party is always going to be more vulnerable in a larger district if it has already won quite a few seats.

But the seven districts in my list above are not Turkey’s seven largest districts. They include Ordu (6 seats) and Mersin (10 seats), but not Ankara (29 seats). This means that the differences in regional voting do count for something. More on this in a moment.

CHP victory: what it takes

Clearly, this Metropoll survey would leave the CHP far from an election victory. So what would it take?

The last time a Turkish pollster showed a CHP lead was before the last election in June 2010, a week after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu became party leader, when SONAR found it had 32.5% support over the AK Party’s 31.1%.

If we were to take SONAR’s result and assume it represented a swing in a future general election, this is how a uniform swing projection would look (with changes from the 2011 result):

The AK Party would lose 30 seats – ten to the MHP, twenty to the CHP – but would still command enough to avoid a coalition.

Again, it’s not surprising that this result wouldn’t deliver a CHP victory or indeed an AK-led coalition government. The CHP lead in the survey was only 1.6 percentage points, within SONAR’s margin of error, and AK does benefit from a strong position of incumbency. But under this projection the AK Party would still lose more seats than it ever has before, and it’s interesting to see where.

The AK Party would lose four seats from Istanbul and two from Ankara to the CHP under this projection. In Adana, Antalya, Elazığ, Eskişehir, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kırşehir, Kocaeli, Konya, Kütahya, Manisa and Zonguldak, it would lose one each.


To win a Turkish general election, the CHP would clearly need to attract voters who previously supported the AK Party. The map above shows that the CHP is closer to winning seats in the west, where cities are larger and have more people living in them.

Seats in the east are far harder for the CHP to convert. AK Party support is far stronger here: the population is smaller and a larger proportion lives in small towns and the country.

An election result that resembles SONAR’s three-year-old survey would return a stronger CHP to opposition, not government. The party would need to do far more to break down AK Party fortresses around the country. These nineteen seats would be just the beginning.

That is why stronger opposition is the best result the CHP can hope for at the next election. For anything better, there needs to be a sea change in Turkish politics. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s elevation to the presidency could upset everything.

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