10 pct election threshold to be reduced

10 pct election threshold to be reduced

September 20, 2008, Saturday/ 20:01:00/ ERCAN YAVUZ
Turkey is preparing to change its much-criticized Political Parties Law by such reforms as reducing the 10 percent election threshold.

Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan suggested establishing four parliamentary commissions to draft a new Political Parties Law and asked political parties to send their choice of candidates for these commissions by Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün told Today's Zaman that the 10 percent threshold should be reduced as soon as possible. "We are open to suggestions, but it would not be right to remove the threshold altogether. Additionally, election alliances should be allowed."

The 10 percent threshold came into force when the Sept. 12, 1980 coup regime adopted the 1982 Constitution. The military regime argued that political instability had resulted because the Political Parties Law in force at the time lacked an election threshold.

Even though the society has been discussing changing this law for quite some time, political parties only called for change when in opposition. A fervent opponent of the threshold was the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, but he did not touch the issue when his Democratic Left Party (DSP) was in power as part of a ruling coalition from 1997 to 2002. Most administrations defended the threshold by hiding behind the argument that Kurdish political parties would be able to enter Parliament if it was removed. As a result, Kurdish parties turned to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that their human rights were being violated.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which currently faces a closure case, was able to enter Parliament by running independent candidates in the July 22 general elections last year, proving the absurdity of the 10 percent threshold. The DTP requested on July 16 that the threshold be reduced to 3 percent. It also asked for funds from the Treasury for parties that were able to win at least 1 percent of the vote. Toptan then presented his suggestions to change the Political Parties Law, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave the go-ahead.

Suggestions on how to modify the Political Parties Law include that 100 of the 550 seats in Parliament be proportionately distributed to political parties according to the percentage of votes they receive. For example, 60 seats would go to the ruling party if it is able to get 60 percent of the vote, etc. However, deputies holding the seats according to the percentage of the vote their parties receive would not have provincial representation and would not be called "deputies."

Ergün pointed out that the election threshold was kept to prevent political instability but that in fact it caused instability -- especially in the period between 1995 and 2002. He said coalition governments consisting of three or four parties were formed at the time.

"The AK Party believes that the election threshold is not necessary and that it should be reduced to either 5 or 7 percent. We are ready to discuss this, but we are not planning to remove it altogether. We are also considering a 'deputies of Turkey' option," Ergün said.

He added that if parties are not able to pass the new threshold, they would still be represented in Parliament by way of 'deputies of Turkey.'

"Removing the threshold altogether would harm stability. We should think about both stability and justice in representation," he said.

He also pointed out that even though the current Political Parties Law prohibits election alliances, parties still engage in them, making it necessary to remove that barrier as well.

EU harmonization process behind changes

Ergün said the government's move to harmonize Turkey's practices with the European Union had had a significant influence on the new move to reduce the threshold. Turkey, even though a candidate country for EU membership, has the highest election threshold among EU states.

Parliament Speaker Toptan is known to be an ardent supporter of a reform of the Political Parties Law and had a report prepared on the issue. According to the report, EU member states Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have 5 percent election thresholds.

Austria, Sweden and Slovenia have 4 percent while Greece and Denmark have 2 percent election thresholds.

The EU states with no election threshold are France, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Greek Cyprus and Malta.

CHP and MHP against changes

The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) suggested in 2005 that the election threshold be reduced, and at the time, even though the AK Party was warm to the idea, opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal was against it. He defended the election threshold on grounds that the removal would cause instability and give way to the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) being further politicized.

On the other hand, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which did not support reducing the election threshold, is now warm to the idea.

Constitutional law expert Professor Zafer Üskül said because of the 10 percent threshold, more than half of the constituency was not represented in Parliament.

"Such a high threshold cannot be defended just because of the stability issue. In previous elections in the past in Turkey, we saw one-party rule without an election threshold. EU states do not have more than a 5 percent election threshold. A threshold above that would damage the accountability of elections," he said.

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