Vote setback for Turkey’s ruling party
The loss of a majority in parliament is seen as rebuff of president’s authoritarian style.
ISTANBUL, Turkey— In a stunning setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s ruling party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years, and a pro-Kurdish party for the first time garnered enough votes to enter parliament, according to a nearly complete tally.
The vote marked a tectonic political shift in Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and an influential player in the unprecedented turmoil roiling the Mideast. If the results are borne out in the final official tally, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would still be the largest party, but a significantly weakened one, and the president’s designs on a vastly empowered executive branch appear to have crumbled.
Horn-honking celebrations broke out outside headquarters of the proKurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, which managed to break a daunting 10% electoral threshold to gain a parliamentary foothold, party officials said. The party, which sought to broaden its appeal beyond the Kurdish minority by championing liberal causes, had taken a major risk by running as a bloc rather than fielding independent candidates associated with the Kurdish cause.
Amid the rejoicing, there was also a sense of foreboding. The ballot-box upheaval is likely to usher in a period of political instability for Turkey, with some fearing that a wounded Erdogan might lash out anew at opponents. Acall for early elections, expected by many analysts, could set the stage for an even more divisive and violent campaign.
Despite the presence of flag-waving faithful at AKP headquarters across the country, the mood was grim as the magnitude of the damage sank in. The party had hoped to not only maintain its majority, but also expand it to a two-thirds supermajority that would have made it possible for Erdogan to push through constitutional changes that would shift greater powers to his presidency.
With nearly all ballots counted, the AKP had about 41% of the vote, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party garnered 25%, the Nationalist Action Party, or MHP, 17% and the HDP more than 12%, the state broadcaster TRT reported.
“The nation’s decision is the best decision — do not worry,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the AKP head, told supporters in his hometown, Konya. But he added, “We will never bow downto any power.”
Before the election, there were worries that a shutout of the HDP — which would have received no seats had it failed to reach the 10% threshold— could have triggered a breakdown of the peace process between Kurdish militants and the government. But with a projected 80 members of parliament, the country’s Kurdish minority, making up about 20% of the population, can look to a major new political role, albeit one that could provoke an angry backlash.
As the vote count progressed, jubilant celebrations erupted in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. Only two days before the election, the city was the scene of a deadly blast at a political rally that left four people dead and scores injured. Turkish media carried photos of some of the injured arriving at the polls, swathed in bandages.
Although Erdogan did not appear on the ballot, the election was widely viewed as a referendum on his increasingly authoritarian style, which was welcomed by some as a show of strength but denounced by others as undermining Turkey’s tradition of secular democracy stretching back to the republic’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
With nearly 54 million people eligible to vote, turnout was estimated at more than 85%, as long lines formed at many neighborhood polling places. The election’s high stakes raised fears of voting fraud, and tens of thousands of Turks, mostly associated with civil society groups, volunteered to serve as election monitors.
Erdogan was constitutionally barred from engaging in electioneering, but he turned dozens of official appearances into what were in effect campaign rallies, making scathing, strident attacks on the AKP’s opponents. He and Davutoglu had warned of dire consequences if the AKP were forced to share power.
‘The nation’s decision is the best decision— do not worry. We will never bow down to any power.’
— Ahmet Davutoglu, prime minister and head of Turkey’s ruling party
PRESIDENT Erdogan’s party would remain the largest in parliament but significantly weakened.