Part I: 2018 Elections in Turkey: What Did Change?


Selin Esen

Ankara University, Law Faculty

Editors' Note: This is the first of a two part post discussing the impact of the recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey.

Snap elections in Turkey for presidential and parliamentary took place on June 24, 2018, more than 16 months ahead of schedule. These elections were critically important in various ways for Turkish constitutionalism and politics. 

Firstly, elections would open a new era for the Turkish constitutional system. Indeed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), allying with far right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had made extensive amendments to the 1982 Constitution in 2017 under state of emergency. These alterations, that were narrowly approved in a referendum, aimed to completely modify the political regime of the country from a dual executive system to a presidentialist system. Thus, the constitutional reform repealed the dual executive system that was part of the Turkish Constitutionalism since the 19th century and, more importantly, introduced  an authoritarian form of presidentialism by providing concentrated and extensive powers to the president without effective checks and balances . In accordance with the amendments package, the new presidential system would begin to take effect after the elections. 

Secondly, the results would show the approval level of President R.T. Erdogan’s and his AKP’s policies, that have been ruling the country since 2002. Thus, both elections results would reveal the possibility of a more balanced constitutional system based on coalitions between the president and the legislative organ in practice. 

Thirdly, these would be the first elections that were to be held in accordance with the new constitutional rules. Indeed, according to Article 77 of the Constitution amended in 2017, presidential and parliamentary elections must take place simultaneously. Hence the 2018 elections would be the first in Turkish history in which voters casted separate votes on the same day for president and the Parliament. 

Rules for presidential and parliamentary elections are provided for in the Constitution and laws. The Constitution stipulates detailed provisions for presidential elections. Hence, according to Article 101 a candidate for the presidency can be nominated either by political parties or by citizens. However, only political parties that form a parliamentary group or have received more than five percent of the valid votes in sum alone or jointly at the last parliamentary elections can name a candidate. Equally, a minimum of one hundred thousand voters are entitled to nominate. 

Accordingly, in the 2018 elections six candidates ran for the presidency. R. T. Erdogan was the joint nominee of two political parties with parliamentary groups, i.e. AKP and MHP. Nominees of other two parties that formed parliamentary groups were from among their members. The main opposition, theself-claimed social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), nominated Muharrem Ince, who was a popular MP of the party. The left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) candidate was Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-chair of the party who has been imprisoned since 2016. 

The right-wing Good Party (IYIP), recently formed by the former members of MHP, the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), which comes from the same roots as AKP, and the nationalist Patriotic Party (VP) nominated their own chairs by obtaining sufficient number of signatures of electors.  

Article 67 of the Constitution provides some universal principles regarding all elections and referenda, such as free, equal, secret, universal suffrage, and the public counting of votes. The principle of direct election is also a constitutional requirement. Elections will be held under the direction and supervision of the judiciary. According to Article 79 of the Constitution, the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) conducts this power. 

Article 101 of the Constitution provides for a two-round system for presidential elections. Accordingly, a candidate who obtains absolute majority of the valid votes in the first round shall be elected. In case any candidate fails to achieve this, the second ballot shall be held on the second Sunday following this ballot. The first two top rated candidates in the first ballot will run for the second. The candidate who receives the majority of valid votes shall be elected president.

If one of the candidates who is entitled to run for the second ballot is unable to participate in the election for any reason whatsoever, the second ballot will be conducted by substituting the vacant candidacy in conformity with the order constituted in the first ballot. Where only one candidate remains for the second ballot, this ballot shall be conducted as a referendum. Should the candidate receive the majority of the valid votes, he/she will be elected the president. Note that this provision raises criticism overlooking the main principle of democracy: the choice between minimum two options.

The Constitution and Law No. 2839 on Parliamentary Elections stipulate the electoral system for the election of the 600-seat unicameral parliament. The Constitution does not stipulate a specific requirement except for Article 67 regarding electoral system for the legislative organ. According to Law No. 2839 parliamentary elections are held in accordance with party list proportional representation system, i.e. D’Hondt method with ten percent of national threshold. 

Shortly before the snap elections were announced, the Parliament made some substantial changes to the electoral laws. While amendments on Law No. 2839 keept the national threshold in place, they also allow political parties to form pre-election alliances, which was not previously possible. In this case, total votes of all political parties in an alliance will be taken into account for the nationwide threshold. Hence, a political party within an alliance can win seats in the Parliament if its total votes are below the required threshold provided that the total votes of alliance have reached ten percent. Note that ten percent electoral threshold is the highest in Europe. This seriously threatens political pluralism. Even though the statutory amendment that enables pre-election alliances may be considered an improvement, there are still negative impacts of the threshold on political parties who are out of an alliance.

As expected, after the call for elections the first formal alliance was formed with AKP and MHP, the latter has been publicly supporting the ruling party’s policies since 2015. Given a very limited time, the opposition managed to form an electoral alliance. Thus, the second alliance was framed by CHP, IYIP and SP. The pro-Kurdish HDP was excluded from the alliance. 

Free and fair nature of elections were the prevailing issue during the campaign. It was breached in various ways. 

Selin Esen is Professor of Constitutional Law at the Law Faculty, Ankara University

Suggested citation: S Esen, 'Part I: 2018 Elections in Turkey: What did change?' IACL-AIDC Blog (13 August 2018)