Despite AKP Victory, Turkey’s Elections Reveal Polarization

Despite AKP Victory, Turkey’s Elections Reveal Polarization

Last Sunday's polls in Turkey gave incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a widely expected victory. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) obtained 50 percent of the vote, winning Erdogan an unprecedented third mandate and increasing the party's share of votes by more than 3 percent over its already triumphal victory in 2007. A closer look shows that all the major parties actually managed to increase the number of votes they received. That suggests that many Turkish electors ultimately opted for a "strategic vote," abandoning smaller political groups and their hopeless struggle to overcome the 10-percent threshold to be seated in parliament. Beyond that, however, the various parties must draw different conclusions from the vote.

The main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), experienced the greatest disappointment. Since 2010, it has undergone a major internal overhaul in an attempt to shed its conservative posture, placing its trust in the new leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Under his predecessor, Deniz Baykal, the CHP struggled to overcome the electoral threshold, failing in 1999 and recovering only during the polarized elections of 2002. CHP can boast of having increased its share of votes by 5 percent in the current round, with 4 million more votes than in 2007, but it faces serious problems. The identity change brought about by Kilicdaroglu arrived both too late and too early: too late, because another ideological revolution, Erdogan's, is already settling in Turkish society, and it is more lively and fruitful than ever; too early for the same reason, as Turkish society is not yet ready for another substantial change.

Moreover, Kilicdaroglu's conciliatory position on the Kurdish issue did not convince more-traditionalist voters, many of whom moved to support the nationalist and conservative National Action Party (MHP). It also strikingly failed to catalyze support from the Kurdish minority, which gave virtually no votes to the CHP. Expectations were high, but Kilicdaroglu's new stance failed to bring a critical mass of voters to CHP's ranks. After this first electoral test, the party is likely to go back to the drawing board.

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