2007 elections in Turkey

turkey.jpg

Turkey is to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections this year which will shape the future of EU-Turkey relations. EURACTIV outlines what is at stake.

Background

Turkey’s president is elected for a seven-year term by the parliament. The term of current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has expired on 16 May 2007. However he will stay in office until a new president is elected. The president holds the highest office in Turkey and fulfils mainly representative functions. He retains the right to reject a parliament bill, which can then only pass if it is voted by a simple majority and the president also appoints the judiciary and other state bodies. However, considerable symbolic importance is attached to the post.

The president is elected in a secret ballot by the parliament, requiring a two-thirds majority in the assembly in the first and second round (367 of 550) and a simple majority (276) in the third round. The outcome of the presidential elections will also directly influence the general elections.

Turkey’s 550 members of the Grand National Assembly are elected for a five-year term by a system of proportional representation. A nationwide 10% threshold is observed in the general elections. Political parties need to win 10% of votes throughout the country and in an electoral milieu in by-elections. The d’Hont system applies for the distribution of deputies among the parties, according to the election results.

Issues

The presidential elections in May are seen as a test for the political parties’ influence ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has nominated Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gül as a candidate for the presidential elections.

The potential candidacy of Erdogan has been a particular issue of debate. The current prime minister and avowed Muslim is critically eyed by secularist forces in the state. However, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül faced similar criticism.

According to a Hürriet poll ahead of the elections, almost 2 million voters, 72.9% thought that Prime Minister Erdogan would not become the next president, whereas 21.1% believed he would be elected.

Following the failure by the parliament to elect a president, due to an opposition boycott, the AK Party proposed the election of the president by direct vote. The proposal had seen fierce opposition from the outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and secular forces in Turkey, who see the balance of the political system endangered by the same party controlling both the government and the presidency. However, on 5 July the highest court in Ankara judged to have the introduction of the direct election of the president put to a popular vote in October.

At the parliamentary elections on 22 July, the AKP managed to win 46.7% of votes, allowing it to form a single-party government under Prime Minister Erdogan for another legislature. The two opposition parties, the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), both managed to pass the 10% threshold and secure seats in the parliament, winning 20.8% and 14.3% of votes respectively. Following the political mayhem that preceded the elections, the turnout was 80%.

Repartition of seats in parliament:

  • Justice and Development Party (AKP): 340
  • Republican People’s Party (CHP): 112
  • Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): 71  
  • Independents (BGMZ): 27

One of the first tasks of the newly elected parliament will be the election of a president to succeed Ahmet Necdet Sezer. The battle over presidential candidate Abdullah Gül, proposed by the AKP, had plunged Turkey into a major political crisis.

However, the AKP falls short of winning the two-thirds majority necessary to push through their presidential candidate. Following a ruling by the highest court, a minimum of two-thirds of the plenum needs to participate in the presidential elections, thus forcing the political parties to agree on a compromise candidate. 

Positions

Nationalistic feelings seem to be getting stronger In Turkey. Political parties increasingly make use of nationalist rhetoric and an A&G public opinion poll published by Cüneyt Ülsever Miliyet Newspaper, 51.1% of the population think that nationalism in Turkey is on the rise, against 30.4% who oppose this view. The newspaper concludes: "The point reached in full membership talks with the EU, developments in Northern Iraq and the social experiences after the Hrank Dink murder have all added to the nationalistic reflexes."

However, the candidacy of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül and the prospect of having a moderate Islamist party ruling both the government and the presidency has alarmed secularist forces in Turkey, the military and the main opposition leader, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) alike. They accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of undermining the country’s secularist foundations. The military had warned that it would be ready to defend the Turkish secularist system as nearly a million protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the presidential candidate, following a failed vote in the parliament.

Moreover, public support for Turkish EU membership has been decreasing, especially following the EU’s decision in December 2006 to put the accession talks partially on hold. A public opinion poll by the International Strategic Research Organisation (ISRO) on 7 November 2006 showed that Turkish public support for accession fell from 75% in 2004 to 50% in November 2006. A large majority of Turkish citizens (81%) thinks the EU does not treat their country fairly and only 8% still believe that Turkey will be a member in the next ten years.

The favourable economic climate could help the current Erdogan government to gather support for the upcoming elections. In 2006 Turkey’s economy grew by more than 6%.

The Turkish military issued comments on the first round of presidential elections, stating: “The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism.” It was added: “The Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey.”

The Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis expressed his concern about the Turkish military's comments and said: "It looks like a deliberate attempt by the armed forces to influence the election of a new president in Turkey. They should stay in their barracks and keep out of politics." He added: "I am shocked that the military in a member state of the Council of Europe should behave in this way in the midst of a democratic and constitutional process such as the election of the head of state."

Liberal MEP and vice-chairman of the parliamentary delegation for relations with Turkey, Andrew Duff, said: “I am very concerned at the tone and timing of these remarks [by the Turkish military] which suggest a threat to the democratic legitimacy of the country. I hope that they are nothing more than a personal view and do not represent a signal that the military would be prepared to set aside the democratic process in Turkey.”

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated: "The EU is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, and the supremacy of democratic civilian power over the military. If a country wants to become a member of the Union, it needs to respect these principles."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave his support for Abdullah Gül. He told German newspaper Bild: "I have worked very well and closely with Gül in the past years." He added: "Turkey has moved closer to the EU in recent years. We should keep on giving our support for this."

Commission President José Manuel Barroso congratulated Erdogan on the election results: "This comes at an important moment for the people of Turkey as the country moves forward with political and economic reforms. Prime Minister Erdogan has given his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the EU. I wish him every success with his new mandate."

Turkish business association TÜSIAD commented the parliament election result, saying: "Important tasks and responsibilities are awaiting the new parliament. In our opinion, in the upcoming period, including the process of presidential elections, it is in Turkey’s best interests to promote an atmosphere of national consensus on major policy issues. The Turkish business community expects the new parliament and government to focus on continuing the momentum of the accomplishments of the last term.  Within this framework, the government should promptly concentrate on the structural reforms further boosting Turkey’s global economic competitiveness and the EU membership process."

Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), told EURACTIV that with a re-election of AKP "progress towards the full membership objective will remain high on the agenda" and the "current approach towards the EU should remain unchanged". Speaking about Turkey's failure to enhance its image in Europe he said: "The incoming government is likely to put much more emphasis on this dimension of the relationship, provided that full membership remains on track."

Timeline

  • 24 April 2007: The AK Party currently holding the majority in the parliament, announced Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül as presidential candidate.
  • 27 April 2007: First round of ballots in the parliament failed. Gül fell short by only ten votes of reaching the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament. The main secular opposition party boycotted the vote. The constitutional court declared the vote invalid.
  • 3 May 2007: Turkish Parliament approved 22 July as the date for new general elections, following a government crisis.  
  • 16 May 2007:  The mandate of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer ran out, but he will stay in office until a new president is elected.
  • 22 July 2007:  The AKP wins 47% of votes at early Parliamentary elections (originally foreseen 4 November 2007).
  • 28 August 2007: Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül was elected as president in a third round of votes in the parliament by a required simple majority, after failing to get a two-thirds majority in the first two rounds.
  • 29 August 2007: Newly elected President Gül approved Erdogan's new cabinet, which is determined to press ahead with reforms and boost Turkey's EU membership bid.
  • October 2007: Referendum on the direct election of the president.

Further Reading

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe