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Turkey’s Ironic Electoral System



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To keep Kurds out of parliament, the military authors of the 1982 Turkish constitution instituted the unheard-of threshold of 10 percent, meaning that a political party that wins less than that proportion of the total vote does not gain any seats. This rule has had a huge impact on Turkish political life, especially in 2002, when it transformed the AK Party’s third of the votes into two thirds of the seats. It has also caused the ruling AKP party, despite its increasing popular vote, to control a steadily smaller number of the 550 seats. Note in particular the bolded numbers:

Year Votes % Votes % Change Seats % Seats Change
2002

10,800,000

34% +34%

363

66%

+363

2007

16,300,000

46%

+12%

341

62%

-22

2011

21,400,000

50%

+ 4%

326

59%

-15

Comments:

(1) In 2002 the AKP was just shy of the 367 seats needed for a two-thirds majority that would let it unilaterally change the constitution; and in 2011, it is just short of the 330 seats needed to pass a new constitution on its own in parliament, after which it would be submitted to voters in a referendum (as happened in September 2010). Still, this small shortfall is not likely to stop the AKP from writing its own constitution. Then, watch out.

(2) Ironically, the Kurds found a way around the 10 percent threshold, by running as independents and then forming a voting bloc on arrival in parliament. Their number, by the way, rose from 20 in 2007 to 36 today.

(3) Also ironically, as the AKP strengthens on the ground — receiving twice the number of votes yesterday than it did in 2002 — it weakens in parliament. Put differently, the 10 percent ruling that doubled AKP power in 2002 has since then worked against it. Voters have wised up and are not throwing their votes away as once they did. As Jürgen Gottschlich of Der Spiegel notes, this AKP victory “almost seems like a defeat.” (June 13, 2011)



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