Jenny Hilton reports on the likely outcome of recent elections to the Turkish parliament
The elections that took place in Turkey earlier this month were particularly important, given that President Erdogan wanted to change the constitution and greatly extend his powers at the expense of Parliament. Erdogan’s twelve years as Prime Minister have hugely increased Turkey's prosperity and stability, and he has improved the status of the Kurdish minority. But his personal popularity has been in decline, not least because of a grandiose 100 room Xanadu-like palace he has had built surrounded by several miles of 12 foot ornamental fencing.
I was in Ankara for two days of briefings with Labour Lords colleagues Alf Dubs and John Tomlinson, as well as 160 other international parliamentarians – although, no UK MPs. We were addressed by the leaders of three of the four main parties (the spokesperson for the right-wing nationalist MHP did not attend). Professor Sentop, for the ruling AKP, effectively still Erdogan's party, was unable to explain why the President needed more powers and effectively mounted a filibuster, with long rambling replies contrasting various presidential systems in the US, France and Russia. The spokesman for the old Kemalist secular party, the CHP, Mr Aksunger gave a rather lack-lustre performance and indeed his party also lost ground in the elections.
The most impressive presentation came from the walrus-moustached spokesman Siri Sureyya Onder for what was the mainly Kurdish party, the HDP. They had previously stood for election as independent individuals, because of the difficulty as a party of getting more than the necessary 10%. They had however widened their policies to include human rights, minority rights and green issues with a view to appealing to younger voters. 50% of their candidates were women and they have a man and woman heading their party in each precinct.10% of their candidates were LGBT, and they also reached out to other minority groups.
Siri Sureyya Onder had spent many years in prison as a young man and was an MP in the outgoing parliament. He had also taken a leading part in the Geze Park protests in Istanbul two years ago. He spoke with humour and was particularly forthright on the need for gender equality, in part because of the active role played by women in the Kurdish struggle for recognition. (When I lived in Turkey their existence was denied and they were referred to as ‘mountain Turks’).
On the second day, Alf Dubs went to the Kurdish East of Turkey to monitor the elections there, the day after a bomb had exploded at an HDP rally killing at least 2 people. John Tomlinson went to Istanbul whilst I remained in Ankara. I took the opportunity of a free afternoon to visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, which won the European Museum of the Year two years ago
My colleague for Election Day itself was a Swedish MP who had been an Eritrean freedom fighter as a child. We spent the day in the outer suburbs in a Teletubbies landscape of gently rolling green hills, dotted with an astonishing number of new-built dormitory towns and four-lane highways. (Ankara now has a population of 15 million). Apart from some minor intimidation at one polling station, everything was very orderly. We had a friendly driver, and a charming interpreter who told our fortunes in coffee grounds at lunch-time!
The outcome of the election was a triumph for the HDP who passed the 10% barrier with ease, securing 13% of the vote and 80 seats in Parliament. This means the President's ambitions have been thwarted and Turkey will retain a parliamentary government. No party however, has an overall majority and the possible coalitions look very unstable. A further election before Christmas seems likely.
Baroness Jenny Hilton is a backbench Labour Peer
Published 15th June 2015