Turkey’s ruling party looks as if it will remain in the majority in parliament in this weekend’s elections, with polls indicating it has a strong lead over its rivals.
But the Justice and Development (AKP) Party’s grip on power will ultimately be determined by the success or failure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), which is seeking to enter parliament for the first time.
A “New Turkey” has been the ruling AKP’s campaign mantra, promising a presidential system that will revitalize the current sluggish economy and usher in a new golden age.
But opposition parties warn such a win could portend the end of democracy in Turkey.
Down to Erdogan
Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University said the election has come down to one person.
“The unique agenda item of this country is the fate and future of President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan. Hardly any other issue is discussed. And this election will tell the Turks and the world whether he will still be the strongman of Turkey or not,” Aktar said.
Despite opinion polls indicating a sizable number of AKP supporters, there are still other factors that could prevent the party from securing a majority.
The AKP’s Achilles’ heel is the upstart HDP, which is aiming to prevent Erdogan’s lawmakers from winning a majority and continuing to govern alone.
The HDP is seeking to break through the parliamentary 10 percent threshold — a percentage, analysts say, was deliberately created by Turkey’s then-military rulers in 1982 to exclude pro-Kurdish parties.
If the HDP succeeds, the roughly 70 seats it could secure would be at the expense of the ruling AKP — its chief rival in the Kurdish regions.
Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar of the Carnegie Institute in Brussels, said the HDP has run an inspired campaign.
“What the HDP has been able to do in this campaign — and which stands out from previous campaigns — is that they have demonstrated a willingness to rise above purely ethnic base of the party, especially through the able campaigning of its co-chair Selahattin Demirtas,” Ulgen said.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is also posing a threat to the AKP in the central heartland of Turkey, with a platform of opposing an ongoing peace process with the Kurds, anti-corruption and the economy.
Erdogan is not up for election and, as president, is supposed to stay neutral. Regardless, he has been campaigning relentlessly for the AKP — a party he once led. His statements also have become increasingly divisive as he struggles to rescue his dream of an executive presidency.
In Kurdish regions in the east, he spoke to crowds holding a Kurdish-language Koran in hand, a controversial act in a country where the president’s oath binds him to safeguard “the principles of the secular republic.”
Political scientist Aktar warned whoever comes to power in Turkey, major challenges await them.
“Whatever the result will be, there will be a single-party government or a coalition government,” Aktar said.
“Turkey will have, for months and years to come, a very shaky chaotic period, politically speaking. But also economically speaking and socially speaking. So I think we’re entering a very blurred, and unclear period of time in the history of the country,” he added.