Presidential and parliamentary elections
June 24, 2018
Result: President Erdogan’s coalition gained 57.3% of the vote (344 seats), while the opposition coalition of the CHP, IYI, and SP gained only 31.5% (189 seats). The vote was plagued by allegations of ballot stuffing and intimidation. President Erdogan remains in power, and is currently serving a new five-year term as the Turkish economy continues to worsen. He faced a defeat in local elections in March 2019, losing mayoral control in Ankara.
- First general elections that will inaugurate the executive presidential system since constitutional amendments passed in 2017; previously parliamentary republic.
- Unicameral legislature; 600 representatives elected every 5 years on a proportional system; 10% vote threshold to enter the Grand National Assembly (highest party threshold to enter parliament in the world).
- President elected in 2 rounds if no candidate gets 50% plus one vote, limited to 2 terms; directly elected every 5 years; strong powers to select ministers, appoint most senior judges, enact some laws by decree, and dismiss Assembly.
- President becomes the head of state and of government (no Prime Minister); parliament has power to impeach the President but no direct executive oversight.
- Incumbent: Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been President since 2014; was Prime Minister from 2003–2014 and leads the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
- Justice and Development Party (AKP): Presidential candidate = Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Right-wing; nationalist; socially conservative and Islamist; rhetorically pro-open markets; regionally expansionist foreign policy; while officially committed, skeptical about EU.
- Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): no candidate (supporting Erdogan). Far-right; ultranationalist; socially conservative; questions NATO membership; hostile over possible EU membership.
- Republican People’s Party (CHP): Candidate = Muharrem Ince. Center-left, main opposition force; secular social democracy; pro-EU membership.
- Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): Candidate = Selahattin Demirtas (in jail). Left-wing; predominantly Kurdish, socially progressive;
- Good Party (IYI): Candidate = Meral Aksener (former MHP). Center-right; moderate nationalism; pro-EU membership.
- Felicity Party (SP): Candidate = Temel Karamollaoglu. Islamist; socially conservative.
AKP and MHP have joined forced as the People’s Alliance; CHP, IYI, and SP have united for the parliamentary elections as the Nation Alliance.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- Turkey hosts the U.S. Air Force at the Incirlik base, counting close to 1,500 military personnel, used for counter-ISIS coalition strikes; military contributor to NATO mission in Afghanistan and counter-ISIS coalition. Also hosts NATO Land Command in Izmir.
- U.S. relies on Syrian Kurdish forces for counter-ISIS efforts while Turkey has increased crackdown on the Syrian Kurdish militants YPG, which Turkey opposes and sees as an extension of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization by U.S. and Turkey.
- Turkey launched a military operation into Syria in early 2018, increasing the risk of confrontation with U.S. proxies and forces.
- Hosts over 3 million Syrian refugees, partnering with the EU to limit passage to Europe.
- Erdogan’s authoritarian shift has drawn him away from NATO (member since 1952) and EU as he has grown closer to Russia and Iran; Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400s might jeopardize the sale of F35s to Turkey (Congress opposes the S400 deal).
- Erdogan has continued his purges in civil society and the government, holding Turkish-American dual citizens in custody. The trial of Pastor Brunson on terrorism charges has increased U.S.-Turkish bilateral tensions.
Key Issues to Watch
- Continued state of emergency since July 2016 raises questions over the possibility of free and fair elections, increasing tensions and possible police or military presence at the ballot box; the state controls most media outlets. Freedom House has downgraded Turkey to “not free” in 2018.
- Economic downturn continues, consumer prices were up 12% in May 2018 (year-on-year) and the lira was down 20% (year-to-date); 2017 saw a 7.4% growth but macroeconomic figures will likely continue to deteriorate.
- For the first time, three main opposition parties have joined forces in a parliamentary alliance (CHP, IYI, and SP), and are working on a roadmap to reinstate the parliamentary system should they win. They have rallied around their opposition to Erdogan and the AKP more than ideological alignment.
- Thousands including HDP leaders and MPs remain in jail on terror charges amid a continued crackdown on opponents.
- Polling remains biased or unreliable, as people are wary of answering pollsters, which suggests an undercurrent against the ruling party. During last year’s referendum, Turkey’s three major cities voted against changes to the constitution while the more rural areas voted overwhelmingly for President Erdogan’s recommended changes.