x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Erdogan wins Turkish election but fails to reach crucial two-thirds majority

Election result means Turkey's ruling AKP , despite increasing its vote, cannot push a new and more democratic constitution through parliament on its own, but must seek consensus with other parties.

ISTANBUL // Turkey's voters yesterday handed Recep Tayyip Erdogan a record election win but denied him the two-thirds majority he sought to draw up a new constitution.

The result means the prime minister must make a deal with the opposition to write a new basic law. Turkey's political class agrees on the need for a new, more democratic constitution to replace the current one written under military rule in 1982, but efforts to find consensus on the issue have so far failed.

Last night Mr Erdogan pledged to work with his rivals. "We will all write the constitution together. A blank new page has been opened," he said in his victory speech.

Mr Erdogan's religiously conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, received an unprecedented 50.4 per cent of the vote and can expect to fill 327 of the 550 seats in parliament, enough for a comfortable majority and for a continuation of the AKP government, according to projections based on more than 90 per cent of votes counted.

But the result not only fell short of Mr Erdogan's goal of at least 367 seats for a two-thirds majority that would have enabled the AKP to push a new constitution through parliament, it was also less than the 330 seats needed to have parliament vote on the text and then send it to a referendum for a final decision.

The biggest opposition party, the secular Republican People's Party, or CHP, was second with 25.8 per cent of the vote and about 135 seats. That was up from 21 per cent in the elections of 2007. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which was hit by a sex-video scandal during the campaign, came in at 13.2 per cent and an estimated 53 seats, after 14 per cent in 2007.

Turkey's main Kurdish party, the Party for Peace and Democracy, or BDP, fielded nominally independent candidates to circumvent the rule that a party needs at least 10 per cent of the nationwide vote to enter parliament. The BDP can expect to have 35 deputies in the new parliament, according to the projections.

Hasan Cemal, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, said Mr Erdogan wanted to push the right-wing MHP out of parliament to secure a two-thirds majority for the AKP. Mr Cemal said Mr Erdogan had moved his own party to the right for that aim, but had ultimately failed to reach his goal.

Mr Erdogan has been accused by his critics of wanting to tailor the new constitution to his and his party's needs and to create a French-style executive presidency. Many observers presume Mr Erdogan, 57, has his eyes on the presidency after the new parliamentary term ends in 2015.

With yesterday's result, the AKP, which came to power in 2002 with a share of 34 per cent and won re-election in 2007 with 46.6 per cent of the vote, became the first Turkish party in half a century to win three general elections in a row. The only other party that managed to reach that mark was the religiously conservative Democratic Party, or DP, which won in 1950, 1954 and 1957.

The AKP also has the chance to become the longest-ruling party in Turkey's multiparty era if it stays in power for another two years; the DP was in power from 1950 to 1960, when it was deposed in a military coup. Turkey, which was ruled by the CHP under a single-party system in the first decades after the republic was founded in 1923, introduced multiparty elections in 1946.

In another momentous result, Erol Dora, a lawyer running as an independent candidate backed by the BDP, won a parliamentary seat from Mardin in south-eastern Anatolia to become Turkey's first Christian deputy in half a century.

While no major incidents were reported on polling day, Kurdish politicians protested over the heavy police presence around polling stations in the Kurdish area of south-eastern Anatolia, saying the heavily armed security forces were intimidating voters.

The strong security measures were meant as deterrence to prevent attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a rebel group that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984. But Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the BDP who formally resigned from his post to be able to run as a nominally independent candidate, said the presence of the policemen was creating tension itself.

"Police even take pictures inside the polling stations," Mr Demirtas told Turkish reporters in the south-eastern city of Hakkari, where he cast his vote. "There is no pressure coming from the people or from someone else," he said, in a reference to the PKK. "The only pressure here is coming from those standing at the voting booths with a Kalashnikov," Mr Demirtas said.

tseibert@thenational.ae