Last week, former Prime Minister and foreign policy chief Ahmet Davutoğlu inaugurated his much anticipated Future Party. As expected, his speech emphasized democracy, personal liberties, transparency and fair economic development. This is what all politicians across the world vow to defend. All leaders employ these terms to fit their respective preferences.
The ideas Davutoğlu put forward in his speech were rather liberal. Still, there was nothing in his speech that was particularly striking or novel and that set him apart from the establishment. His boldest move came we he acknowledged the demand for Kurdish rights, in particular Kurdish-language education. This is an issue even the Republican People's Party (CHP) leader doesn't dare to tackle despite close collaboration with the People's Democratic Party (HDP) during the country's last municipal elections.
In short, we have yet to see how Mr. Davutoğlu's rhetoric will translate into actions. For example, how will he react next time a proxy mayor is appointed to a HDP-led municipality? Such events will help unveil the true character of the Future Party.
Analysts were quick to deem the party's chances slim, though I detect a fundamental flaw in their analyses. In Turkey, the success criteria of new parties is defined as getting 30-40% of the popular vote. This happened in 2002 under extraordinary circumstances and the AK Party, thanks to President Erdoğan’s ability to keep the right under one party, managed to secure single party governments for the past two decades.
However, the new system dictates that to win one needs more than 50% of the vote. Furthermore, the ex-ante alliances allow for parties to come together to clear the 10% threshold. Therefore, even if a party gets, say, 8% of the votes and manages to secure seats in the parliament, then that party has a seat at the adults table. It can leverage its votes for the second round of the presidential elections, which the winner and the runner up of the first round will desperately be in need of. For a new party, that is a successful result by any measure.
Realistically, this is what new parties are aiming for. Perhaps not 8% but definitely somewhere between 10-20%. As I wrote before, and keep repeating, our polling suggests that there is a 15-20% swing vote among the People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı). Needless to say, this is the low hanging fruit for both of the new comers.
By this logic, I would further speculate that if this system is kept in operation, in the future we will witness the formation of more new parties. Perhaps thematic ones such as a green or feminist initiatives will emerge to form political parties with a potential to attract voters from the CHP or the HDP. The era of parties getting very large share of votes in Turkey is over.