06/11/2011, 00.00
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The fateful numbers of Turkey’s election

by NAT da Polis
In tomorrow’s elections, parties are targeting the number of seats needed to change the constitution (367 and 330). The country’s Nationalist and Republican parties are trying to prevent Erdogan’s AKP from gaining an absolute majority. Both conservative parties want to stop the latter from reaching the necessary quorum that would allow it to call a constitutional referendum without the support of other parties.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Turkey’s longest election campaign ended yesterday as voters prepare to cast their ballot tomorrow in a poll centred on changing the Turkish constitution adopted after the 1980 military coup [1]. These elections are crucial for they will define Turkey’s future course.

Given such a premise, voters could have expected a campaign focused on party’s proposals and debates on their respective electoral programmes. Instead, they got nothing of the sort.

Political parties have not shown their cards, mostly concentrating on mudslinging and on the two third majority needed for amending the constitution. The crucial numbers are 367 and 330. The first one refers to the number of seats needed for parliament to change directly the constitution, whilst the second is the number of lawmakers needed to call a popular referendum to amend the constitution.

Public opinion polls suggest that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Erdogan should win 46-50 per cent of the vote. However, if the AKP wants to win two thirds of the seats, it must hope that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) fails to win 10 per cent of the vote, the threshold parties need to pass to have members elected. Survey indicate that support for the MHP is around 11 per cent, down from 14.7 per cent in 2007.

By contrast, the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey’s oldest party, has gained ground, up from 20.87 per cent in 2007 to 27-30 per cent this year, profiting from vote transfers from the MHP.

Nevertheless, if the MHP fails to meet the 10 per cent threshold, the CHP and MHP might work out a deal to prevent Erdogan from getting a two third majority.

The 330-seat quorum required for government-sponsored referenda is another point of disagreement. With that number of seats, the ruling party can bypass opposition parties and independent MPs to initiate constitutional change.

In view of the stakes, parties have traded all sorts of accusations to get votes. In the past few weeks, the AKP has tried to use sex scandals involving some MHP politicians to discredit that party and stop it from reaching 10 per cent. For their part, to stop the ruling party from winning 330 seats, the CHP and MHP have accused the AKP of corruption and illicit profiteering. Without these qualified majorities, the latter would not be able to call a referendum. Instead, it would have to negotiate constitutional changes with other parties.

Recent press coverage by foreign papers like The Economist and The New York Times have also played into the campaign. Both have urged Turks not to vote for Erdogan to stop him from concentrating too much power.

The AKP has responded to the criticism by pointing out that World Bank data show that Turkey’s economy should grow by 6 per cent this year.

Youth unemployment remains high however, at 15 per cent. This might make foreign coverage a determining factor that could influence the electorate and the outcome of the elections.

[1] The most important changes proposed by the AKP would affect articles 16 and 26 of the current constitution, which define the composition of the Supreme Court and the Higher Magistrate Council, the last pillars of the old establishment, which operates as a “state within a state” and has been able so far to stop parliament from implementing any reform in Turkish society that deviates from the Kemalist dogma.

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