Sunday’s “drama” could be…

What if there are less than 330 seats?

©Yavuz Baydar

With only two days to go until another course-defining general elections, the political map of Turkey is becoming slightly clearer. I have in this column given some considerable space to my observations based on a keen reading of credible pollsters. Now, we have come close to the day of major decisions and we have a final poll to look at.

Overall, this can be said: Arguably the least surprising outcome on Sunday evening will be if the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) wins a constitutionally critical 330 seats with a narrow margin. AK Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has tipped this, many other leading AK Party figures whom I have spoken with also agree, as do the pollsters. KONDA, probably the most prestigious and reputable of the pulse-takers also points this. In its latest, a “final” poll, posted on its website, it offers the following predictions: AK Party 46.5 percent, CHP 26.8 percent, MHP 10.8 percent and BDP “independents” 6.7 percent. It is a survey, ambitiously prepared, with an error margin of +/- 1.7 percent. The remaining 9.2 percent of votes are distributed among smaller parties and other independents, although this seems still rather high at this late stage.

KONDA agrees with its rivals that the AK Party will enter the new Parliament with a clear majority, but will be unable to win the 367 seats that would enable it alone to pass a new constitutional draft in Parliament. According to calculations, its chances to gain “referendum majority” stands on “razor’s edge.” It may win between 327 to 333 seats.

So, a kind of a drama awaits us all on Sunday evening. I shall come back to that. What makes the KONDA poll worth paying serious attention to is that it has continuity. This final poll, which took place between 3-5 June, is the 16th of a series of face-to-face “field surveys” in which 46,000 people have been polled since March 2010. So, we may easily see an equally important element — a picture that enlightens us about voter trends. It is worth focusing on the time span from March 2011 to now. Because three months ago it appeared clearly visible that the AK Party would exceed the 50 percent barrier, with a 51.8 percent rating. Whereas others (except the MHP) had touched serious lows, with the CHP at 22.2 percent and BDP at 4.8 percent. The MHP was on a slight rise to 8.5 percent from 7.7 late last year.

However, in the past three months KONDA has shown AK voters following a steady downward path to the current 46.5 percent; although it’s hard to know if this will continue in these final days. On the other hand the CHP, BDP and MHP climbed steadily. The CHP seemed to have climbed more than four points to 26.8. The BDP’s path was — compared to its voter size — even more dramatic, at the current 6.7 percent.

The most critical point in the KONDA survey is the observation that the AK Party will achieve 330-plus seats. But one has to look at the other parties, the MHP in particular. At the moment, the MHP is the only party standing on the edge of being excluded from Parliament; it is not a given that it may surpass the critical 10 percent election threshold. KONDA’s founder, Tarhan Erdem, politically a reformist and a “European” social democrat wrote yesterday in a related analysis that he is “concerned” (from democratic perspective) that the MHP may be “sent out” by the vote, causing damage to fair representation. But his personal “guess” is that the AK Party is likely to win between 312 to 326 seats (with MHP “just” getting in).

So, in all likelihood, we shall be giving a lot of thought to whether or not the AK Party will be given a mandate to a “referendum majority.” This is a very critical point; a watershed that will define the mood and course of politics and indicate some new patterns of “outside actors” to be involved.

The question is, what if the AK Party fails to win 330-plus seats? There are perhaps two aspects to such an outcome. The first is for Erdoğan’s adversaries and observers who are concerned of perceived authoritarianism, which may diminish his chances of designing and passing reforms for a France-like presidential system. The second is bad news for reformists across the political divide. Less than 330 seats may cause a loss of appetite for the AK Party leadership to handcraft comprehensive reforms and the rounding up of democratization with a new constitution, as it seems probable that the opposition may raise the stakes to unbelievable levels. The MHP is already known to be opposed to a new constitution and the strengthened BDP may continue to be confrontational and maximalist.

It leaves the scene mainly to two major actors: the AK Party and the CHP. In such a scenario, a lot will depend whether a “stronger main opposition” (as many Western media outlets envisaged) will be willing to stand up to the task of pushing through change, standing for democracy and doing its best for an inevitable “historical compromise.” This is, if KONDA is right, what Sunday’s drama will be all about.

 Previous articles of the columnist

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