Turkey votes for parliament amid debate on presidential system
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Today voters in Turkey are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that could lead to fundamental changes in how the country is governed. Today’s election is being held amid strong economic promises and debates on the Kurdish issue.
The Justice and Development (AK) party, the popular ruling party since 2002 and formerly led by Erdogan, is sure to win the poll but it is aiming to attain a two-thirds majority in the 550-seat parliament, aiming to replace parliamentary system with a presidential one. By securing 330 seats, the party will be in a position to draft a constitution and try to have it approved through a referendum.
An expert at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies on Turkey and Kurdish affairs said the election has been reduced to a referendum on whether Turkey should change its political system or not. The three largest opposition parties in parliament have all declared that they are against the presidential system. Opinion polls indicate that the AK party is ahead of its rivals. The whole battle falls around if Turkey should have a parliamentary system or a presidential one.
The political atmosphere is tense, with bombings targeting the country’s Kurdish-oriented left-wing party and harsh rhetoric emanating from party leaders and the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a country where the office of the president is constitutionally neutral, Erdogan has been making political remarks in recent public appearances, often criticising the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) and other opposition parties. The HDP, which is contesting the elections on a liberal platform, is seeking to cross the 10 percent threshold and enter parliament. Its success will affect the distribution of seats and, consequently, the power of the ruling party.
The run-up to the elections has seen discussions on the Kurdish dispute in the context of ongoing peace talks with the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Although the majority of surveys suggest that a victory with such a large margin is unlikely for the AK party the ruling party says people are with it. .
Turks overwhelmingly support the AK party which took over an economy reeling from high levels of inflation and unemployment, and is credited with restoring stability by pushing growth through trade and foreign investment. Average annual economic growth has been around five percent during the party’s rule, with the figure for 2014 placed at 2.9 percent by Turkey’s Original Statistics Agency. In February, unemployment stood at 11.2, with a one percent increase over the same period last year, data from Turkey’s official statistics agency show. In the sphere of economy, three opposition parties have made big economic promises to the public, including substantial rises in the minimum wage.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who first came to power as prime minister in 2003, is seeking a big enough majority to turn Turkey into a presidential republic. However his hopes may be scattered if the pro-Kurdish HDP crosses the 10% threshold and enters parliament. If the left-wing HDP succeeds in winning seats in parliament for the first time, it would reduce the number of seats won by Erdogan’s AKP, thwarting its plans to change the constitution and transfer the prime minister’s executive powers to the president. A strong showing from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the third-placed Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) could even force the AKP into a coalition.
In power since 2002, the AKP is expected to again be the largest party by far. But achieving a majority may depend on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) falling below the 10% hurdle required to enter parliament. Erdogan has held frequent rallies during what has been a confrontational election campaign, joining Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in attacking opposition parties. The two have portrayed the election as a choice between a “new Turkey” with stability and a “return to a history” marked by short-lived coalition governments, economic instability and military coups; the chaos and crisis atmosphere of the 1990s,” Davutoglu told a rally in the southern city of Antalya. Ratcheting up tension ahead of the vote,
This election is the biggest electoral challenge for the AKP since it came to power 13 years ago. Growth has stalled, he says, critics talk of an authoritarian President Erdogan who has eroded free speech and burnt bridges with the West – and they are desperate for change. The result may have ramifications beyond Turkey’s borders. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Iran and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the south. The Mediterranean Sea is to the south; the Aegean Sea to the west; and the Black Sea to the north. The Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles (which together form the Turkish Straits) demarcate the boundary between Thrace and Anatolia; they also separate Europe and Asia. Turkey’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes it a country of significant geostrategic importance.
The country is a vital NATO member in a volatile Middle East and a rare mix of Islam and democracy. Turkey has the world’s 17th largest GDP by PPP and 18th largest nominal GDP. The country is among the founding members of the OECD and the G-20 major economies. The EU – Turkey Customs Union in 1995 led to an extensive liberalization of tariff rates, and forms one of the most important pillars of Turkey’s foreign trade policy.[ Turkey’s exports were $143.5 billion in 2011 and reached $163 billion in 2012 (main export partners in 2012: Germany 8.6%, Iraq 7.1%, Iran 6.5%, UK 5.7%, UAE 5.4%). However, larger imports which amounted to $229 billion in 2012 threatened the balance of trade (main import partners in 2012: Russia11.3%, Germany 9%, China 9%, US 6%, Italy 5.6%)
Former Ottoman Empire, Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations (1945) the OECD (1961), the OIC (1969), the OSCE (1973), the ECO(1985), the BSEC (1992), the D-8 (1997) and the G-20 major economies (1999). Turkey was a member of the United Nations Security Council in 1951–1952, 1954–1955, 1961 and 2009-2010. In September 2013, Turkey became a member of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD). In line with its traditional Western orientation, relations with Europe have always been a central part of Turkish foreign policy.
Turkey has maintained forces in international missions under the United Nations and NATO since 1950, including peacekeeping missions in Somalia and former Yugoslavia, and support to coalition forces in the First Gulf War. Turkey assists Iraqi Kurdistan with security.] Turkey has had troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of the United States stabilization force and the UN-authorized, NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since 2001
Today, EU membership is considered as a state policy and a strategic target by Turkey. The other defining aspect of Turkey’s foreign policy was the country’s long-standing strategic alliance with the United States. The common threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War led to Turkey’s membership of NATO in 1952, ensuring close bilateral relations with Washington. In the post–Cold War environment, Turkey’s geostrategic importance shifted towards its proximity to the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans.
The independence of the Turkic states of the Soviet Union in 1991, with which Turkey shares a common cultural and linguistic heritage, allowed Turkey to extend its economic and political relations deep into Central Asia, thus enabling the completion of a multi-billion-dollar oil and natural gas pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey. The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline forms part of Turkey’s foreign policy strategy to become an energy conduit to the West.
Turkish parliamentary election could pave the way for President Tayyip Erdogan to change the constitution to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential system that provides the president with strong powers.
Turkey’s most popular politician and founder of AKP, Erdogan seeks a large majority for the ruling AK Party to boost his powers. He says a US-style executive presidency is necessary to bolster the regional influence and economic advances of NATO-member Turkey.