AK Party wins by landslide, fails to secure majority for new constitution

June 12, 2011, Sunday/ 21:08:00

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won Sunday's general elections in a sweeping victory as expected, but according to initial calculations the number of deputy seats it has won in Parliament will not be enough for it to adopt a new constitution.

The AK Party won 49.9 percent of the vote, up 4 percent from the last elections, but this translates into 326 seats in Parliament, meaning it will be more than 40 seats short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the country's constitution unilaterally and about four seats short of the 330 seats needed to refer a Constitutional reform to a public vote.

According to results from 99.8 percent of the total vote, the AK Party won 49.9 percent of the vote, up by 4 percent from the previous elections, followed by the Republican People's Party (CHP) with 25.9 percent, up by 5 percent from the previous election, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 13 percent of the vote. According to this vote distribution, the AK Party won 326 seats, the CHP won 135 seats and the MHP, which was expected by some pollsters to drop out of Parliament, falling below Turkey's 10 percent vote threshold, had 53 seats.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a Kurdish party accused by officials of links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), fielded independent candidates in order to work around requirements for the 10 percent vote threshold. The independents in total won about 6.6 percent of the vote, as expected. Most of them are BDP endorsed independents who will join the BDP and form a parliamentary group, the quorum for which is 20 deputies. The BDP independents won 36 seats in total.

The drafting of a new Constitution was one of the most important themes in this election, with every political party promising a new and more democratic constitution to replace Turkey's current one, which was drafted and adopted shortly after the devastating 1980 coup d'état.

Fifteen parties and 200 independent candidates contested 550 seats for four-year terms in Parliament in Sunday's election. Voter turnout was around 87 percent. Surveys in past weeks have correctly indicated that the AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was headed for another win.

About 50 million Turks, or two-thirds of the population, were eligible to vote. The last polls closed at 5 p.m. in western Turkey. Reporting results online started at around 6:30 p.m. Some television stations started about 10 minutes earlier.

For the first time, voters cast ballots in transparent plastic boxes in which the yellow envelopes could be seen piling up. The measure was designed to prevent any allegations of fraud. In past elections, wooden boxes were used. “We have spoken, and now it is time for the people to speak,” Erdoğan said in İstanbul as he cast his vote. “For us, this will be the most honorable decision and one that we will have to respect. As far as I know, the election process is continuing through the country without any problems.” A group of supporters greeted his arrival at a polling station by shouting, “Turkey is proud of you.”

Erdoğan has promised that the new constitution would include “basic rights and freedoms,” replacing the 1982 Constitution implemented under the tutelage of the military after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état. However, he has provided relatively few details on a possible new draft. AK Party politicians describe themselves as moderates and “conservative democrats” who are committed to the ideals of Western-style democracy. After winning the elections in 2002, they implemented economic reforms that pulled the country out of crisis. The growth rate last year was nearly 9 percent, the second highest among G-20 nations after China. Still, political reforms faltered in the ruling party’s second term. Turkey’s bid to join the European Union has stalled, partly because of opposition in key EU nations such as Germany and France. Critics point to concerns about press freedom and the Turkish government’s plans for Internet filters as signs of intolerance toward views that don’t conform to those of Turkey’s leadership. Four people were detained Sunday in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa for allegedly voting more than once with other people’s ballot papers. In the capital of Ankara, police fired in the air and used pepper spray to break up scuffles at a polling station where a group of voters wrongly accused another group of having fake ballot papers, the Anatolia news agency said. But for all of Turkey’s challenges, Sunday’s vote was an indicator of stability in a country that suffered fractious coalition politics and military coups in past decades. Most voting was peaceful and orderly, with large crowds gathering early to cast ballots.

“We have come to the end of a long marathon,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition CHP, said after arriving at a polling station with his wife and son. “Today is the time for a decision by the people. We will respect their decision.”

Despite its successes, the AK Party government faces opposition accusations that it seeks to consolidate power at the expense of consensus-building. Much of the debate among commentators in the run-up to the elections was centered on whether the ruling party can secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament that would enable it to push through a new constitution without the support of other political groups. This didn’t happen, and Parliament is likely to see heated debate on the content of the new constitution Turkey will be drafting after the elections.

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