If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the November 1 Turkish elections, it’s that fear works, and there are few people better at engendering it than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Only five months after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the Turkish parliament, a snap election put it back in the driver’s seat.
The cost of the victory, however, may be dear.
To achieve it, Erdogan reignited Turkey’s long and bloody war with the Kurds, stood silent while nationalist mobs attacked his opponents, and unilaterally altered the constitutional role of his office.
Observers from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that violence and attacks on the media had a significant impact on the election. “Unfortunately we come to the conclusion that this campaign was unfair, and was characterized by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian and head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation.
At the same time the European Union itself seemed to favor an AKP victory. The EU Commission held off a report critical of Turkish democracy until after the vote. And two weeks before the election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey bearing $3.3 billion in aid for Syrian refugees and an offer for Turkey to revive its efforts to get into the EU. Previously, Merkel had been opposed to Turkish membership in the EU.
The finally tally is almost everything Erdogan wanted, although he fell short of his dream of a supermajority that would let him change the nature of the Turkish political system from a parliamentary government to one ruled by a powerful and centralized executive—himself.
The Formidable Erdogan
There are 550 seats in the Turkish parliament. The AKP took 49.5 percent of the vote and won 317 seats, an increase of 59 over the June election. While 276 seats is a majority, what Erdogan wanted was a supermajority of 367 seats, which would allow him to change the constitution without involving the electorate. He did not achieve this.
The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) picked up two seats over the June election for a total of 134 seats. The left-wing and Kurdish-dominated People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which scored an historic 13.1 percent of the vote and 80 seats in the June election, managed to squeak by with 10.8 percent of the vote and 59 seats. If it had failed to pass the 10 percent barrier for parliamentary representation, most of its seats would have gone to the AKP, possibly giving Erdogan’s party the supermajority it craved.