Sunday’s general election result in Turkey saw support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) drop to 41 percent from nearly 50 percent in the 2011 election. The AKP will not have enough parliamentary seats to achieve President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s goal of introducing a full presidential system, which would have increased his powers. The left-leaning, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) meanwhile, made dramatic gains.
Erdoğan’s persona dominated the AKP’s election campaign, as he played the role of party president and abandoned all pretext of being “above politics” as previous presidents had been. The government’s crackdown on press freedom and erosion of the rule of law, which has set back Turkey’s human rights record, were in evidence during the election campaign itself. The president threatened a newspaper editor with life in prison for covering a story the government wanted to suppress. Judges and prosecutors who issued decisions the government didn’t like were jailed and accused of coup plotting and terrorism.
The most striking election result was achieved by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which won 13 percent of the vote. The party overcame one of the most fundamental obstacles to a fair political system in Turkey, which is a colossal 10 percent election threshold that can deprive millions of voters of any representation in parliament. Reducing this threshold should be a priority for the new government.
The HDP made the gains despite the bombing of two of its election offices and scores of other attacks on its campaign. Additionally, just two days before the poll, bombs planted at a rally in the Kurdish heartland of Diyarbakır killed three supporters and injured many others. Among the election’s lasting images will be the photos of bomb survivors, their limbs in plaster, their heads bandaged, casting votes at polling stations in Diyarbakır.
Looking ahead, the enlarged presence of the HDP in parliament should represent an important gain for efforts towards a lasting Kurdish peace process, in which guarantees for the human rights of Kurds and all citizens in Turkey will play a crucial part. Ending the abusive application of anti-terror laws and the jailing of political opponents for political activism, protest, and writing should be among the first steps.
There are already intense discussions about what kind of coalition government will be formed. It is too early to know what happens next. However, the results of this election demonstrate the dynamic nature of Turkey’s society, which is, in many senses, ahead of the country’s political leaders and ready to vote for more inclusive, pluralist politics, and against further concentration of power in the office of the president.