A Turkish Cornucopia: If Parliamentary Elections Take Place as Planned in November, Turks Will Go to the Polls with Close to 50 Different Political Parties on the Ballot Form. (Current Affairs)

By Gorvett, Jon | The Middle East, October 2002 | Go to article overview

A Turkish Cornucopia: If Parliamentary Elections Take Place as Planned in November, Turks Will Go to the Polls with Close to 50 Different Political Parties on the Ballot Form. (Current Affairs)


Gorvett, Jon, The Middle East


With Turkey's parliament decision in late July to call an early general election for 3 November, it seemed that a government of quite awe-inspiring unpopularity might finally be nearing its end. Yet despite the fact that opinion polls have continued to show that the three parties of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's ruling coalition government are unable to muster the 10% minimum vote necessary to gain seats in parliament, recent events have proved there is plenty of fight left in Turkey's political old guard.

As The Middle East was going to press, it seemed a last attempt was being made to have the general election postponed, if not cancelled altogether. The mechanism was classically Byzantine, with Mesut Yilmaz, the leader of the smallest of the three ruling parties, Motherland (ANAP), leading the way. Early September, ANAP was polling around 3.5% support, making it one of the obvious big losers at the ballot box. Yilmaz has thus been widely regarded as the leading advocate and organiser of the anti-elections camp. This camp had also grown considerably since parliament voted back in July. Principally, it consists of two groups. The first are the deputies of parties such as Yilmaz' which stand to be wiped out in the 3 November poll. This includes both Ecevit's Democratic Left (DSP) and Ismail Cem's breakaway New Turkey Party (YTP), which seemed to hold so much promise when it first set out in late July. However, the failure of Kemal Dervis--the economics guru brought in from the World Bank to sort out Turkey's financial crisis--to join the YTP seems to have seriously undermined its support, leaving it well below the 10% barrier. Also in this category are a clutch of smaller parties, such as the Democratic Turkey Party (DTP), an old reelection vehicle designed for the former president Suleyman Demirel, and the pro-Islamist Saadet Party (SP), which is the more conservative of the two factions which emerged from the old, unified, pro-Islamist Virtue Party.

This already amounts to quite a number of MPs. Yet also against the election are a number of deputies within those parties, which are more firmly committed to an early ballot. This group of MPs, known as the "broken hearted", are those deputies who are currently in parliament, but who have fallen out of favour with their party leaderships. Under the Turkish electoral system, party leaders can chose the entire list of candidates without the rank and file having any say. If a deputy has not behaved, he or she can end up being placed low down on the party list--meaning they must run in a no-hope constituency.

Given that the government, Turkey's 57th, has managed to survive three years--something of a record for elected governments in Turkey--plenty of pay backs have been accumulated, leaving many deputies "broken hearted". This affects deputies in the rightist National Action Party (MHP) particularly, which is the most popular of the three coalition government groups--not that that's saying much. It is thought that these deputies would also back a vote to cancel or postpone the elections.

Another factor behind the growing support for a postponment is the great popularity of the more liberal pro-Islamist party, Justice and Development (AKP). This is currently on around 25-27% support, a clear 10 points ahead of its nearest rival, the centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP). Turkey's fiercely secular military and bureaucratic establishment makes no secret of its distrust of the AKP. This is despite declarations by party leader Recip Tayyip Erdogan that he is in favour of European Union membership and the IMF-backed economic programme. Tayyip also refuses to invite his wife--who wears a headscarf--to any state functions, and claims the AKP is no more religious than, say, the German Christian Democrats.

This secular establishment had recently pinned some of its hopes on Erdogan being ruled out of the election altogether by the courts. …

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A Turkish Cornucopia: If Parliamentary Elections Take Place as Planned in November, Turks Will Go to the Polls with Close to 50 Different Political Parties on the Ballot Form. (Current Affairs)
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