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Record turnout, significant gains for liberal forces in Turkish elections

[photo]
Supporters of HDP party gather before the general elections.

June 16, 2015—

“I was pleasantly surprised. It was a great and significant success,” says LAU professor of History Selim Deringil of the results of the recent Turkish elections.

Most significant, says Deringil, were the gains of the left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP). “The party supporters were hoping they would be able to cross the 10 percent barrier, and they got 13.1 percent, which is great,” he enthuses. Turkish electoral law dictates that parties must receive at least 10 percent of the votes in order to obtain seats in parliament.

Among the 80 seats secured by the party, two are held by Armenian MPs and one by a Roma. “This is the first time in the history of the country that the Roma are to be represented in parliament!” exclaims Deringil. Altogether, three parties put forward and secure seats for Armenian candidates. “This may be tokenism, but given Turkey’s history, it is important,”

Also significant is the liberalization the election results point to. The HDP is a union of left-wing movements and is strongly pro-Kurdish. “The success does indicate that at least some Turks are becoming more liberal,” Deringil says. “You have to remember though that their campaign was not just about Kurdish rights. It was also about gay rights, women’s rights, labor rights, and more. So in a ‘macho’ country like Turkey, this is significant.”

Many of the votes cast for the HDP were, says Deringil, borrowed or strategic votes. People voted for the HDP because they were fed up with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Erdogan and unimpressed with the weakness of the second largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). “The charismatic and charming character of their leader Selahattin Demirtaş was also a real factor.”

The voters have for the first time in history enabled a pro-Kurdish party to enter Turkey’s parliament undiluted by a coalition. The AKP on the other hand, having failed to secure a majority in parliament, will need to either form a coalition or call for an early election. There are risks to both options, and while it seems that Erdogan is leaning towards avoiding a coalition by calling for new elections, Deringil points out that it is too early to tell.

The professor is not surprised by the drop in the Turkish president’s popularity and that of the party he founded and of which he had been leader until he ran for the presidency. “The main reasons, first and foremost, are the aggressive and insulting style of Erdogan, the attempts to cover up blatant corruption scandals, and the mess the AKP have made of foreign policy, particularly on Syria.”

Deringil was among the 86 percent of the electorate who cast votes that have changed Turkish politics significantly. “The electoral turnout was a record, but we usually have high turnouts. The Turks are a very politically conscious people.”


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