A presidential system like in the United States, and only two parties in parliament: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan thinks that would be a really good idea for Turkey. It would make politics more efficient and the country more stable, he thinks. When I heard it, I thought: isn’t it just the opposite? Isn’t it about time that in Turkish politics as many people as possible feel represented in the parliament?
The election threshold in Turkey is 10%. As a result of that, there are only three parties represented in parliament: AKP, CHP and MHP. The pro-Kurdish BDP also has seats, but they had to do a trick to get past the threshold. They take part in the elections standing independent candidates, who win easily in Kurdish areas of the country (Turkey has a system of proportional representation), and only after the candidates are installed in parliament do they form a bloc.
The argument always used for keeping the threshold at ten percent is that lowering it would result in too many small parties entering the parliament and thus cripple the decision-making process. With many parties, coalition governments would be the natural outcome, and, true, coalition governments have never done Turkey any good. They were either too prone to weak compromises to really govern, or they soon fell due to infighting.
The AKP put an end to that. They have been in single party government since 2002. And they did govern: the economy is doing better than ever before, both their governments have served their full term, and even though democratisation is far from going fast enough, actual reforms in for example the judiciary, health care and the constitution are being made.
Of course, the AKP would love to stay in power by itself after the next elections, due this June. There is a good change that they will, thanks to the voting system. In 2002 they got 34% of the votes and in 2007 they got 46%, but both times it gave them an absolute majority in parliament. How does that make sense? The MHP (the ultra nationalists) got 14% in 2007 and made it, but was not in the parliament between 2002 and 2007, because in the 2002 elections they managed to get only 8% of the votes. When you track the election results in the past, it’s one big coming and going of parties.
The situation between 2002 and 2007 must be the ideal, in Erdogan’s eyes. Then only his party and the CHP made it into the parliament: a two party situation. Yes, effective politics resulted. But in what should be the heart of democracy, the parliament, a very large part of the people was not represented. Not the Kurds, not the ultra nationalists, not a few other parties who got above 5% of the votes (which should in my opinion be sufficient to have representation in parliament). What is the point of going to the ballot box when your vote is nullified by the system? How does that serve democracy?
If the AKP is concerned about democracy like they say they are, they can never seriously propose a two party system. Because how you can introduce that? Raise the election threshold to fifteen or even twenty percent? Abolish all the other parties? There is no democratic way to do it, or actually, there is only one democratic way: if two parties represent most of the people, then a two party system evolves naturally. All other ways to create a two party system are anti-democratic.
Yes, the outcome of lowering the threshold might be that a coalition is needed to form a government. It’s the nightmare of many people in Turkey, and that is understandable when you know the past. But maybe politicians should learn how to deal with democracy: there are many different groups and opinions in this multicultural country, and the only way to govern it is to talk, to find workable and effective compromises, to listen to eachother. To go forward together, both in society and in parliament.
The law says it’s not allowed to change election rules in the year that elections are held. That makes sense. I was shocked though to hear president Gül use that as an excuse for the fact that in this elections, the treshold is still standing: the AKP had time (and support!) enough to lower of abolish it in the previous years. The AKP is clearly not ready yet to let democracy really bloom.