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June 15, 2011, Wednesday

Did the people really say anything?

It is a Turkish media custom to write what-did-the-people-say articles after elections. In fact, once a columnist says something about what the results of a particular election mean, that is what the columnist says, not the people. If we accept that voting behavior is a way of expressing feelings and thoughts, the results can well be translated into words -- words like “go on!” “leave,” “stay,” “you’re doing good but don’t you dare become a dictator” and so on. But who will make that translation and, under the current electoral system, is there a healthy way to make it?

With its 10 percent threshold, the current electoral system forces a significant part of the electorate vote for their second or third options. If voting is going to resemble a speech act, the Turkish elections take place under torture -- a torture similar to those word-games where pronunciation of certain words disqualifies the player. In the 2002 general elections 45 percent of the electorate voted for parties that failed to pass the threshold; in 2007 the “wasted votes” were 15 percent and in 2011 only 5 percent. One may look at these numbers and suggest that Turkish voters learned how to not waste their votes or that the system taught the voters how not to cast their votes.

Now, did the people really say anything? Or did the system make people say something?

The law on political parties is even more problematic. More often than not, it is the leader of a party that decides who will be elected deputy in the next Parliament. By and large, parties know the amount of votes -- and by extension the number of deputies -- they will get in the next election. The people do not surprise the politicians; it is the party leaders that make the surprise. We had a preferential voting system in the past. Today, we don’t. This means that on a district level the supporters of a party do not have a chance to say yes to the party, but no to a particular candidate. Let’s take the example of the AK Party’s sole veiled candidate, Hülya Kamçı, who was put on the 13th row in Antalya, a district that sends 14 deputies to Parliament. Being a stronghold of the CHP, there was no chance that the AK Party would win a landslide victory in Antalya and send Ms. Kamçı to Parliament. Now, did the people say that they didn’t want a veiled deputy in Parliament? Who did say so?

In several cities the political party leaders were received with placards asking the party leadership to run primaries to decide the candidate lists. This was clearly the people’s message to party leaders that they -- the people -- wanted to say something but they were afraid that the choices of the leadership wouldn’t represent their “words.”

Do the people speak through numbers or through their representatives?

The same law on political parties includes the party discipline principle, where a party member is forced to vote in line with his or her party if the party leadership decides so. This means no intra-party democracy. Do the people have the capacity to say something under these conditions? When one of the parties endorses a particular position during this parliamentary term, will it mean that the people who voted for that party are speaking? Will we claim that what Devlet Bahçeli says is what 13 percent of society says? Are we able to say that whatever the AK Party leadership decides is the decision of 50 percent of society?

Did the people really say anything?

Previous articles of the columnist