Speculation regarding the potential of new parties are abound. According to our September 2019 polling across Turkey, the potential for the new parties that would be established by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former economy chief Ali Babacan stood a little over 17% combined. This number in line with the 15-20% of the electorate who are looking for something new. Will have to wait and see whether the new parties will be able to realize this potential. In our first poll of the year conducted during the first week of January, Gelecek Partisi (Future Party) showed up for the first time claiming 1% of the vote.
Several experts, including myself, believe that in the new system of ex-ante alliances and the requirement to get more than 50% of the votes to be elected as President, even 2-3% of the vote counts. This is still true, but impact would vary if at least one of the news parties cleared the 10% threshold by itself or a number of them did via forming an alliance. It is rumoured that a negotiation between centre right parties (new and old) are underway.
Looking at how ex-ante alliances resulted in the past can give us a good perspective in understanding how the above mentioned two new parties can effect the current state of politics in Turkey. The general elections of 2007 is a good example of how sometimes alliances do not succeed in fulfilling their potential. In the general elections of 2007, CHP made an alliance with DSP (Democratic Left Party) in the hopes of strengthening its presence in the parliament. As part of the agreement between the two parties, 13 MEP candidates entered the race from CHP lists. The alliance also aimed at serving the purpose of uniting the divided left at a time when the right was mostly united under the ruling AK Party. The results of the elections were a huge success for AK Party in that prior to the previous general elections AK PARTY increased its votes by %12,3 to %46,5. This gave AK Party around %62 of the seats in the parliament making them dominate the political space. In addition, another right Party MHP which did not have any seats in the parliament prior to this election gained 71 seats. Overall this was a major disappointment for CHP and for the overall left.
The ex-ante alliances where each party candidates ran under their own party’s name but the 10% threshold for each party was assumed satisfied if their respective alliances cleared it in total competed for the first time in June 2018 general elections. Much curiosity was voiced over the performance of the Saadet Partisi. It was believed Saadet would dramatically increase its votes since it was not limited by the election threshold thanks to being part of the Millet Alliance. However, the results of the elections showed that this was not the case. While the People’s Alliance received %52,6 of the votes, the Nation Alliance received %38,8 with only %0,8 coming from Saadet. That share of vote later played a crucial role in the re-election of Ekrem İmamoğlu in the Istanbul repeat election. As Saadet did not withdraw its candidate, what could be AK Party votes remained Saadet votes, helping the margin of İmamoğlu over his opponent.
The poor performance of Saadet can be explained by different scenarios. First, this is their actual potential and that’s that. Second, whilst they resonate more with the conservative base of AK Party, the fact that they were in alliance with the secular CHP kept the voters from voting for them. The question is, how would the conservative electorate respond, if Saadet Partisi, Democratic Party, İYİ Party, Future Party and the party of Babacan, all of which can be characterized by a much milder definition of secularism, except for Saadet, were to form a new alliance. Clearly, Davutoğlu and Babacan are more ambitious and believe that their respective parties can clear the 10% threshold on its own. There is no way of knowing for sure yet. I would speculate that Babacan would be likely to stay out of such a coalition whereas Davutoglu may be more inclined as polling numbers start coming in.
There is, however, another scenario. The AK Party is suffering loses for the time being. Securing a majority in the parliament or winning the presidential elections in the first round are no longer the likely scenario. But, AK Party is still the party that gets most of the votes by a margin of almost 15 percentage points to the runner up. If there were no ex-ante alliances and the requirement to get more than 50% of the vote to get elected president, life would be much less stressful for AK Party and its leader. Going forward, a constitutional change, to be agreed upon in the parliament may be in cards for Turkey.