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Stakes are high for Erdoğan

On June 7, 2015 Turkey is going to hold its 24th general election – probably the most heated in last two decades. In this country which is on the path of spectacular economic development, the voter turnout is over 80% – one of the highest among European countries. Though the ruling Justice and Development Party aka the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) is expected to secure a majority in the parliament, there is a lot is on the stake for them during these elections. The decade-long, unchallenged rule may be on the brink of a setback!

The Justice and Development Party has an excellent track record. A conservative yet economically liberal party, the AKP was created by a splinter group from a rightwing Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) of Necmettin Erbakan. Most of their MPs are self-made businessmen and academics – including the leader Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. When it came to power, AKP inherited a battered economy and a fragmented nation divided along ideological and ethnic lines. Under the leadership of the charismatic Erdoğan, Turkey’s GDP per capita almost tripled from ~ $3.500 to ~ $10.500 within a decade and ist relations with European Union improved significantly. They were also successful in curbing the corruption and putting the Army – which has been involved in multiple coups d’état – on the back stage. This enabled the AKP to clean sweep in seven consecutive general, local and presidential elections as well as two referendums. However, despite all this, things have started to change in a last couple of years.

The most significant blow to the AKP’s reputation was a corruption scandal in 2013, involving several ministers and technocrats as well as Erdoğan’s own son. A strong religious group led by a cleric named Fethullah Gülen who felt alienated by the AKP, was behind this exposé. Though most of the accused were acquitted, people still remember it. The use of force during the Gezi-protest was another misfortune as it labeled Erdoğan as an authoritarian leader. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Middle East foreign policy backfired causing an influx of migrants from Syria. Additionally, its stubborn stance on certain issues like Arminian massacre distanced it from European Union. The economic boom, on the other hand, is now turning into a bust with Turkish Lira consistently falling against US Dollar, unemployment is soaring to 11% and projected growth rate ~ 3% or even less – one of the lowest in decade. The opposition parties are using these circumstances to forestall the AKP’s ambitious post-elections plans.

Erdoğan who had spent 3 terms as Turkish Prime Minister, has now assumed the Presidential office. His role is largely ceremonial, but he still remains the most powerful person in Turkey and active on the political scene. Erdoğan bids to introduce a Presidential system in Turkey which has a parliamentary system. The Presidential system coupled with a new constitution was the central point of AKP’s pre-election campaign about New Turkey. If the AK wins a three-fifths majority (330 seats) in the 550-seat parliament, it can put a new constitution to a referendum for popular approval; while two-thirds majority (367 seats) will enable it to bypass the referendum. However, it looks easier than done as a growing political party plans to hinder Erdoğan’s plans.

Early estimates suggest the AKP bagging a little more than 40% votes, while the share of Kemalist Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP) seems to be around 25% and that ofNationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi – MHP) is likely to get roughly 17% of the vote. A collation of the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi, a successor of Eroğan’s former affiliation Refah Partisi) and the Great Union Party (Büyük Birlik Partisi – BBP, a nationalist-Islamist splinter of MHP) is also in the arena.  But it is the leftist, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi or just HDP) which is turning into Erdoğan’s worst nightmare. This relatively new catch-all party with plans to be an aggressive opposition to the AKP, has been able to garner the support of the long oppressed Kurdish and Armenian minorities as well as bewildered youth due to its liberal rhetoric – ranging from providing substantial rights to the minorities to assuring LGBT rights. Numerous alienated voters of the AKP, ethnic minorities and common voters – disenchanted by Erdoğan – have decided to support this party. The HDP is expected to divide the AKP’s votes in a proportional representation system. But before that, they have to cross the electoral barrier/threshold by securing at least 10% of the total votes. If they fail, they may strengthen Erdoğan’s bid as the AKP will pick up most of their seats. The HDP currently stands between 8.5 to 11.5 percent of the total votes, according to the unofficial polls.

Thrilling results are expected in the next week. Whatever the outcome is, the stakes are high for Erdoğan.

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