Turkey’s ruling coalition seeks to exclude new parties from poll as support wanes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his junior coalition partner and leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli appear panic-stricken by the declining support indicated in the latest polls.

While both the MHP and its coalition partner, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), say polls are not on their agenda until the next scheduled general election in 2023, a recent move by Bahçeli calling for a swift change in six laws that will greatly alter the political process indicates otherwise.

Driving the fears of the ruling coalition are two new parties formed by former AKP senior figures in the last six months. Both are helmed by former allies of Erdoğan: Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu launched the Future Party in December and former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan launched DEVA in March.

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdardoğlu, on Thursday said that the CHP would be willing to provide support by way of deputies for the newly formed DEVA and Future Party should they wish to form a group to enter parliament ahead of the next elections. 

The CHP did the same for the centre-right nationalist Good Party in the 2018 elections. The newly formed Good Party became eligible to take part in the June 24 elections after 15 deputies resigned from the CHP with Kılıçdaroğlu’s blessing to join the new political formation.

A day after Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement, Bahçeli called for a change to six laws, including the country’s political party laws, electoral laws and parliamentary bylaws.

The current political party law stipulates that a party must finalise its organisation in more than half of the cities in Turkey and hold its first convention six months before the election date. Additionally, a political party with a group in parliament of at least 20 lawmakers is eligible to participate in the elections and nominate a presidential candidate. Such a party would also qualify for financial aid from the Treasury for the elections.

While the MHP leader fell short of saying what sort of changes he envisaged to the present laws, one would think that the Erdoğan ally is eyeing regulations that prevent deputies from switching political parties or increasing the current deputy requirement of 20 for the formation of a parliamentary group.

Another one of the plans envisaged by Bahçeli could make it easier to lift lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity. Since parliament voted to lift immunity in 2016, deputies from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party have faced frequent legal pressure, but other opposition lawmakers including Kılıçdaroğlu have also been threatened with legal action.

The latest survey by MAK Danışmanlık puts support for the AKP-MHP alliance at 48.1 percent and AREA Araştırma’s latest survey registers support for the parties at  45.4 percent. They received a combined 51.6 percent of the vote in the 2019 local elections.

It is likely that Erdoğan gave the order to Bahçeli to call for changes to election laws, as it would be in the Turkish president’s benefit to tweak the system given the apparent fall in support. The current presidential election system requires more than 50 percent of votes for a candidate to win, and if no candidate secures this in the first round of voting the top two candidates face off in a second round. Erdoğan may therefore have in mind a new single-round system where the top candidate is declared the winner.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.