Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Opposition for the Sake of Opposition? Polarized Pluralism in Turkish Politics

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Opposition for the Sake of Opposition? Polarized Pluralism in Turkish Politics

Article excerpt

Since the 2002 general elections, the Turkish political scene has been dominated by intense competition between the governing Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) and the two main opposition parties, the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi, MHP).

In the 2007 general elections, the incumbent AKP managed to win and increase its vote share significantly. Though it lost some ground, the AKP also did fairly well in the 2009 local elections. The AKP, CHP, and MHP are likely to continue dominating the Turkish political scene in the upcoming 2011 election cycle.

This article provides a general analysis of the state of the contemporary Turkish political scene. A key question is whether AKP domination will continue for the long haul or whether the CHP and MHP can pose a serious enough challenge in order to take power.

Rapid developments on the Turkish political scene have made for a political agenda that is changing on an almost monthly basis. Moreover, as new issues arise they seem to be increasingly controversial. For example, in August 2009, the governing AKP announced it was working on a major initiative to solve the long-running Kurdish issue. Although the initiative's details were not officially announced, a serious and intense debate erupted both at the mass and elite levels.

The mounting tension on many fronts has generated increased talk of possible early elections in late 2010, a year earlier than scheduled. As political analyst Adil Gur suggests, there are four possible factors that could lead to early elections.3

The first is the Kurdish initiative. By launching a debate on the issue, the AKP has raised expectations that would be difficult to meet without extensive reforms and even constitutional changes. Yet considering the harsh criticism from the CHP and MHP on the issue, and the pro-Kurdish DTP's constant demands, it is unlikely the AKP will undertake any radical changes-which could prove unpopular-before the elections.

On the one hand, significant elements in the ethnic Turkish majority could view concessions to the Kurds as giving up more than they want and might shift to the CHP or MHP. On the other hand, Kurdish voters-who constitute an important part of the AKP majority-could view such reforms as insufficient and could opt to vote for the DTP instead. The AKP might thus prefer winning another election victory before moving forward with such reforms.

A second possible factor is the economic situation. The AKP is well aware that the negative effects of global financial crisis have caused the party some loss in electoral support. Both the 2007 general elections and the 2009 local elections demonstrated that economic considerations are very powerful determinants of voting behavior in Turkey. If the economic situation were to deteriorate further by 2011, this could hurt the AKP's chance of reelection. Thus, early elections could be in the AKP's interests.

The third possible factor that could lead to early elections is the lack of any new party or force entering the political competition. Although there have been small initiatives, such as the populist movement of Mustafa Sarigul (formerly of the CHP), they are far from being organized enough and having sufficient resources to pose any real threat. In this respect, it is in the AKP's interest to hold election before any new unity or strong opposition force arises.

The fourth and final factor is the weakness of the opposition. While both the CHP and MHP hope to attract disappointed AKP voters, both parties, in particular the CHP, have failed to offer credible alternative policy options on major socioeconomic issues. Neither has thus succeeded to garner greater support. Early elections would then be to the AKP's advantage so as not to provide the opportunity for the MHP or CHP to become better organized, develop alternative policy options, and thus win over disillusioned AKP voters. …

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