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New Turkey vote law to benefit ruling party

Overhaul is ‘most strategic answer to AKP’s nationalist-bloc problem’

  • Sinan UlgenImage Credit: Supplied
  • Ilke DenizliImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: On Tuesday, the Turkish parliament voted to approve key changes to electoral laws that could help President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further tighten his grip on power. The tense vote was followed by a brawl on the floor of the chamber, with MPs trading punches and pushing each other.

Analysts believe the most significant change is that parties can now enter into formal alliances on the ballot to counter the burden of the existing 10 per cent electoral threshold.

In an interview with Gulf News, Ilke Denizli, a Turkish-American expert on Turkey, said: “In theory, any party — no matter how small an electorate it attracts — can enter parliament if it allies with a bigger party that allows it to surpass that barrier. Of course, in practice, this political negotiating essentially means that smaller parties are beholden to either the ruling or the main opposition party.”

She added that for the ruling AKP, this overhaul is the “most strategic answer to their nationalist-bloc problem that has preoccupied them since their otherwise big win in April 2017. With their foe-turned-ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) divided and losing support, their new alternative, the Iyi Party (Good Party), would predictably draw away enough votes to leave the MHP out of parliament, and the AKP vying for a majority vote”.

The bill also introduced other amendments on the procedural aspect of elections, like the eligibility of unstamped ballots and mobile ballot boxes. Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank, told Gulf News by email, “These amendments are widely seen as being detrimental to the integrity of elections.”

Asked how the relaxing of the 10 per cent vote securing law to enter parliament could impact the ruling AKP, which has a solid vote base, Sinan had a slightly different take: “The hope is it will increase the number of parliamentary seats for the AKP and eliminate the threat of MHP falling below the 10 per cent national threshold and therefore failing to secure parliamentary representation. Despite having a strong electoral base, AKP fears losing its parliamentary majority. The electoral alliance with MHP is a step to consolidate its majority. But it is unclear whether the desired outcome will be achieved. Since the alliance with MHP could lead to the disenfranchisement of the Kurdish voters from the ruling party.”

Other aspects of the new electoral law include government management of ballot stations over civilian oversight, the relocation of stations on security grounds, and, perhaps most controversially, the authorisation of unstamped ballot papers. “While the first two changes serve as clear control mechanisms over voting in the country’s largely Kurdish and non-AKP voting southeast, backtracking on sealed papers perceivably serves little protective service in the absence of transparency. Effectively, the new electoral amendments serve to exhaust the opposition. As they still maintain the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold, they prevent any sizeable opposition to the AKP from forming while simultaneously allocating the gains of partnership to the biggest party — themselves,” Denizli noted.