Preliminary vote counting in Turkey’s parliamentary election has suggested voters have rejected the ruling party’s attempt to remake the constitution.
With about 97% of the vote counted, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party, the AKP, was well ahead of other parties with just over 41%, according to state-run TRT television. But the projections gave it about 260 seats — 10 below the minimum to keep its majority.
“We expect a minority government and early election,” a senior AKP official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
In a blow to the ruling party’s chances, the main Kurdish party – the People’s Democratic party (HDP) – was running at over 11%, above the 10% minimum threshold for representation.
AKP received about 49% of the vote in general elections in 2011. If the current trend holds, it would be first time the party has fallen short of a majority allowing it to rule alone since it swept into power in 2002.
Erdoğan was not on the ballot but the election was, in effect, a referendum on whether to give his office extraordinary powers that would significantly change Turkish democracy and prolong his reign as the country’s most powerful politician.
The AKP would need to secure a two-thirds majority, or 367 seats, in order to rewrite the constitution without putting the changes to a referendum. Opinion polls suggest this is highly unlikely. A three-fifths majority, or 330 seats, would enable the government to call a plebiscite on constitutional changes. Failing that, the AKP needs 276 seats to rule without a coalition.
The pro-Kurdish HDP runs on a platform defending the rights of ethnic minorities, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In a polling station in the predominantly Kurdish suburb of Dolapdere in Istanbul, Hacer Dinler, 25, said that she had high hopes for the HDP.
“If they make it into parliament, everything will be better,” she said. “We will have more MPs to speak for us, which in turn will strengthen the peace process.”
It is the first time the HDP has run as a party in Turkish elections, and is not sending independent candidates into the race, for whom the election threshold does not apply. If it fails to gain at least 10% of the national vote, it risks not being represented in parliament at all. Recent polls show the HDP slightly above the threshold, one of the highest in the world.
The high stakes of this year’s parliamentary elections mobilised a large majority of the population to vote.
Aliye Goga, 39, a woman of Armenian descent, said it was the first she had voted. “I just never saw the point before,” she explained. “Now my eyes have opened up. The HDP is the only party for women in this country, and they make realistic promises. I really want them to pass the election threshold and get into parliament.”
Leyla Çelik, 38, a part-time student voting at a polling station in Istanbul’s conservative Fatih district, hoped the AKP would continue in power. “This government has exceeded all my expectations,” she said. “We have good healthcare, and women can go to school and university with a headscarf. They are a party that treats us like human beings.”
She added: “It will be better for Turkey if Erdoğan implements a presidential system. He is a good leader, and he will be able to achieve even more when he puts his own people in place, and can be in charge in the country.”
Erdoğan’s divide-and-rule method to rally his religious-conservative base has led to increasing polarisation in Turkey, and in some cases to violence. In the runup to Sunday’s election, the HDP reported more than 70 attacks on election offices and campaigners across the country. On Friday, two bombs exploded at an election rally in the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, killing three and wounding hundreds of others.
At a polling station in Fatih, dozens of volunteer election monitors stood watch at ballot boxes.
“I am here to make sure everything runs smoothly and according to the rules,” said Nisan, 34, a volunteer for the civil rights platform Oy ve Ötesi (Ballot and Beyond). It is the second time he has decided to stand as an election monitor. “In my experience, ballot workers still lack experience when it comes to certain questions, for example when someone else wants to help an illiterate family member vote.”
He said he did not believe large-scale election rigging was possible at the ballot boxes, but that the runup to the elections had been anything but fair.
According to statistics released by the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) last Friday, the Turkish state broadcaster TRT gave disproportionately high coverage to the ruling party.
Almost 100 hours were dedicated to both Erdoğan – whose thinly veiled campaign speeches for the AKP, despite his obligation to remain neutral as the country’s president, drew widespread criticism from opposition parties – and the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, whereas the main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) and the HDP received only 14 and three hours respectively.
“It is impossible to speak of fair elections when the ruling party has all the advantages and all the money on its side,” Nisan said.