Five things to watch in Turkey’s election

Turkey will once again have a general election this year after the failure to reach a coalition agreement after the June 7 elections. The country has significantly changed (and not for the better) since then. The security situation has severely deteriorated with the resumption of the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the IS threat continues to grow. The country is facing almost daily attacks in the southeast by the PKK and Turkish security forces often carry out anti-terror raids across the country, especially in the southeast and in Istanbul. A double suicide bombing, blamed on IS, killed 102 in Ankara on October 10, an event that was followed by a series of anti-government protests across the country. Meanwhile a clampdown on the free media continues. All of this will be in the minds of the Turkish voter as they head to the polls on November 1. Here are five things to pay attention to during and after the election.

The result of the AKP

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the June 7 elections (40%, 8% down from the previous election) and all eyes will be on its score this time round. There seems to be conflicting points of view on how the Turkish voter will interpret the recent events in the country. Some think that the AKP will benefit as many see President Erdogan (not present on the ballot as president but everyone knows the election is about him) as somebody who is tough enough to deal with the many issues the country is facing. Others believe that enough people blame the government itself for security failures that the AKP will be deprived of its majority once again. Erdogan still clearly wants to cling to power and his plans to transform the country into a more presidential system should not be forgotten – a strong majority in parliament will enable him to carry this out.

Will the HDP cross the 10% threshold again?

If the AKP is to win a parliamentary majority depends a lot on the score of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The AKP often benefits from parties not reaching the notoriously high 10% threshold, giving it a larger share of seats in the parliament than its vote share. The HDP managed 13% in June, allowing the newly-formed leftist and pro-Kurd party to enter parliament. All eyes will be on the party to see if it manages this feat again. It’s clear that support for the party will continue to be strong in the Kurdish areas of the southeast. The real test will be if the party can maintain, or even increase, its supporters in the major cities of the west, notably Istanbul and Izmir. A high score for the HDP will put a huge dent in the plans of Erdogan and the AKP.

Situation in the southeast and political violence

Political violence was no stranger to the June 7 campaign. Given that this election will take place in an even worse security situation, there are bound to be instances of violence. The PKK may notably decide to attack symbols of the federal Turkish state. The PKK is of course not the only threat to the Turkish state, IS may also carry out attacks on the election day and the Turkish security forces will certainly be on high alert. Although no bombing has taken place since the October 10 attack in Ankara, another similar attack remains possible. Other, small-scale acts of violence could also be reported. On October 26, the Ankara offices of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was attacked by a gunman, although no injuries were reported.

The reaction of President Erdogan

Erdogan was silent after the last electoral “defeat” for several days. It then became clear, weeks later, that there was no real chance of a coalition government and that Erdogan wanted to have another attempt to reach the majority he desires to push through his plans and to rule more directly as a powerful president. It is hard to say how the Turkish president will react this time round. A victory will surely be heralded as proof of his mandate. A reaction to a loss, that is the AKP failing to secure a parliamentary majority, is a bit more unclear. Could Turkey really go to the polls for a third time in 6 months time? Furthermore, could the country handle more instability? Would Erdogan be ready to accept this defeat and resign the AKP to a coalition government?

Freedom of the press

An issue that is becoming ever more concerning, both within Turkey and internationally, is the freedom of the Turkish press. The government raided the offices of the Koza Ipek media group on October 28, leading to widespread condemnation. Newspapers that do not support the government face raids and journalists critical of the government face the potential of being arrested. Press freedom in the country is ranked as “not free” by Freedom House and its score has been decreasing for the past several years. What the government will do after the election and as the results are being released remains to be seen.

This is certainly a landmark election in Turkey, seen as a real test for Erdogan and the AKP. It is also a test for the HDP to see if it can garner a stable support base that is high enough to reach the 10% threshold. The elections will also be a test of the security forces in the country as the risk of an attack is very high given the current security climate within the country itself and in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Turkey is incredibly divided and political and security tensions remain extremely high. What will happen after the November 1 election and how the country and its political elite will react, nobody knows.

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