If anything, the Turkish parliamentary elections held Sunday, June 7, were all about the future of the country, and in particular the future of its democracy.
For many observers, the elections were more of a referendum on whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can introduce constitutional changes to place the country on a different course.
Explicit in Erdogan’s statements was his desire to change the constitution. However, he would not have been able to do so unless his party won by a landslide and passed the 367-deputy threshold needed to amend the constitution, which did not happen.
Erdogan has, for a while, been pushing for changing the political system into a presidential one. Despite the marked economic successes of Turkey under his leadership, it appears that voters refused to give a blank check to his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The party could not win 367 seats or more; it received only 41 per cent of the vote.
A key reason for the party’s failure to get a two-third majority is the decision of the Kurds to enter the political scene as one block. The pro-Kurdish party HDP decided to contest the elections as an independent party in order to be able to pass the 10 per cent threshold needed to get representation in the Turkish parliament, which it succeeded, and therefore Erdogan’s scheme of changing the parliamentary system into a presidential one was dealt a severe blow.
The Kurdish party leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has been doing well in the run-up to elections, and it seems that his success can be a game changer for the Kurdish minority for years to come.
One could argue that the current elections are the most important in decades. Many vital issues are at stake. Thus far, the AKP won the elections. It transpired that the AKP’s rivals have little to offer voters in terms of economic programs.
Therefore, they warned voters against the dangers of autocracy. They painted elections as if they were about how much power Erdogan could wield and how change would affect the prosperity of the country and its reputation as a functioning democracy.
Their message resonated well even among some of Erdogan’s fans who believed that Turkey should keep a democratic system with checks and balances.
Historians will debate these particular elections in years to come. However, one can argue that the Turkish people decided that no trend of autocracy will be allowed.
Additionally, Erdogan and other politicians must internalize that public support for the AKP is not ideological.
That is, when voters cast their vote in favor of AKP, it should not be interpreted as automatic support for Erdogan’s Islamic inclinations and his autocratic leaning.
The AKP’s loss of its majority in parliament represents a momentous setback to Erdogan’s scheme to control Turkish politics and his effort to become the undisputed leader has run aground.