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Turkey Divided and Conquered: How the AKP Regained Power

Thursday, January 14, 2016

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The landslide victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey’s November 1 election came as a shock to many. Turkish pollsters had predicted the outcome would mirror that of the June 7 election—when the AKP lost its parliamentary majority—with nominal gains resulting in either a razor-thin majority or another hung parliament.

The latest election result, however, comes as less of a surprise when placed in the context of Turkey’s increasingly tumultuous environment and after deciphering President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s divisive and fear-driven campaign strategy.

Erdoğan’s AKP regained its parliamentary majority and surpassed voting predictions by a large margin, earning 49 percent of the national vote—a 9 percent increase from June 7—and gained 317 seats in parliament, meeting the 276-seat requirement. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) suffered a dramatic 4 percentage-point loss, earning 11.9 percent of the vote, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lost over 2 percentage points with 10.8 percent of the vote, barely surpassing the 10 percent election threshold. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) vote share, however, remained the same, hovering around 25 percent.

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) forecast was close to the mark after analyzing the June 7 election breakdown to determine major shifts in voting patterns and where the AKP would need to win back voters. In an earlier report, we predicted that Erdoğan and the AKP’s divide-and-conquer strategy would garner enough support to regain a parliamentary majority.

Vote Thresholds in the Turkish Parliament

Turkey-Election-Parliament


 

Turkey’s Parliamentary Election Results: June 7, 2015 vs. November 1, 2015

Turkey-Election-Results

This report looks at voting patterns in Turkey’s November 1 election and highlights five distinct trends, including where the AKP’s calculated gains came from:

  • Voter Turnout Increased: November’s overall voter turnout of 85.2 percent was 1.3 percentage points higher than in June, which saw a turnout of 83.9 percent. This translated into roughly one million more votes, increasing the AKP’s potential voter pool and contributing to a share of its total gains. Overall, voter turnout increased mostly in Anatolia and the Black Sea region as well as in urban provinces. Higher voter turnout was likely motivated by Turkey’s fomenting political and economic instability.
  • AKP Picked up Votes in Every Province: The AKP picked up votes in every single province—a stark contrast to the June vote, in which it declined in almost every province—including areas in the western and southern coasts that have historically shown little AKP support. The overall uptick in vote share is an indicator that Turks across the board were disillusioned with the failed coalition-building process and, seemingly out of options, voted pragmatically for the largest party in the November election.
  • AKP Regained Nationalist Votes: The AKP regained a substantial amount of MHP votes in Anatolia and the Black Sea region, which tend to divide support between the AKP and MHP, and in urban provinces. This is demonstrative of the success of Erdoğan’s calculated strategy of stoking nationalist tensions and renewing an offensive against the Kurds.
  • AKP Recouped Lost Kurdish Votes: The AKP regained a number of votes in the Kurdish region, which almost unanimously supported the HDP in the June 7 election. Escalating violence alienated conservative Kurds, who, seeming to blame the PKK and not Erdoğan for the fighting, switched back
    to the AKP.
  • AKP Gained Third-Party Votes: Lastly, but not insignificantly, the AKP gained a share of third party, independent, and “other” votes (TIOs) in Anatolia and the Black Sea region. The TIOs’ vote share accounted for roughly 4.9 percent in the June 7 election and dropped to 2.5 percent in the November snap election. A portion of this vote-share loss went to the AKP. Erdoğan had focused part of his election strategy on generating last-minute, backdoor alliances with smaller Islamist parties and groups, which paid off in the end.

Several lessons emerge from this most recent election:

  • The AKP is the largest party in Turkey and has consistently garnered significantly more votes than any other political party for over a decade now.
  • Turkish society is deeply and almost evenly polarized. There is little indication that there will be any shift in the balance of support between the AKP and other parties, barring a change in Turkey’s demographics.
  • Even amid Turkey’s deeply polarized political environment, swing voters do exist and their decisions will continue to prove decisive.
  • Despite a growing consensus that a political solution is required for Turkey’s Kurdish question, there remains a considerable nationalist constituency eager for military responses as well.
  • For the AKP, one lesson from the election will almost certainly be that national crisis can translate into electoral opportunity.

Turkey’s stability and security, however, will only be tested further under AKP leadership. Creeping authoritarianism and the Islamization of Turkish society, a reeling economy, an escalated Kurdish conflict, the mounting Syrian crisis, and the risk of further Islamic State attacks in Turkey will challenge the AKP as it balances continued provocation and fear-mongering with reconciling the deep divisions in society. It remains to be seen how the AKP will respond to these critical issues moving forward, but stability in Turkey and the surrounding region hinges on it.

KEYWORDS: TURKEY, TAYYIP ERDOGAN, AKP, CHP, TURKISH ELECTIONS, KURDS, HDP, MHP

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