Today is a historical day in Turkey as over 50 million people go to vote for 15 parties to elect members for the 550 seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. As I am in Turkey and witnessing this event first hand I see a changed nation from that of 2002 or 2007. Voting started at 0400 AM GMT in Easter Turkey and one hour later in Western Turkey. The polling stations will close for voters at around 1400 GMT and we expect to start getting initial results would start coming e expected to close at All polling stations are expected to close at 1400 GMT and preliminary results are expected after 1800 GMT. The voting started in Ankara where Turkish president Abdullah Gull casted his vote.
All the major political figures ended their campaigns yesterday. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went out to vote early in the morning. I had a chance to see him casting his vote and he was looking as confident as he was looking in 2007 when I saw him then. Erdogan is standing as a member of Turkish Grand Assembly or what they call in Turkey a deputy.
The main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of the old Republican People’s Party (CHP), that was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, also voted in Ankara. He called the day a “democracy feat”.
Devlet Bahceli, who belongs to the Southern province of Osmaniye ended his campaign and voted in his native city. He is leader of the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP.
There are 15 parties in the run for the 550 seats Turkish Grand National Assembly. Apart from the 15 parties there tens of independent candidates, fighting their way in through ballots. Political parties in Turkey need to get 10 per cent of the total national votes in order to be elected to parliament. That’s why many parties support independent candidates as the Kurdish mainstream political party Peace and Democracy Party or BDP has done by throwing its weight behind 60 or so independent candidates.
Turkey has a single house of representative known as Grand National Assembly. Its 550 members are elected for four years term, and they are distributed according to population in different electoral districts. For example Istanbul is divided into 85 seats from three electoral districts. Ankara on the other hand gets 31 seats.
Turkey has a seat adjustment system based on proportional representation, where each party is awarded seats in each district based on its share of the local vote. This as a result creates a voter preference for political parties rather than individual candidates. This is not as blind as it seems because political parties on their turn publish a list of their prospective candidates in case they win the vote that they will nominate for a specific area or district. There are more than one candidate nominated in these lists in order of preference so if the party for example wins the local vote their and ends up taking 5 seats their top five nominated names in the list will go to parliament.
For parties the field becomes even hard because they have to get at least 10 per cent share of the national vote to ensure any seats in parliament. This in turn means that 23 or so parties in today’s election might not end up in the parliament. The Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) bypassed this 10 per cent rule by supporting independent candidates. These independent candidates worked as a common block in the parliament. Through this system the party ended up with 26 seats. Though successful in gaining seats the parliament DTP was banned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court in 2009. The party re-emerged in this election as Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and they are supporting more than 60 independent candidates in this election.
Turkey is mobilized and it seems everyone is out to vote, the nation has been gripped by scandals involving opposition leaders, but the high turnaround I am seeing shows that democracy has taken its roots in Turkey. As it is more likely that the new parliament will have more of Erdogan’s party AKP members strengthening its grip on power for a third consecutive election. For the first time in Turkish history an election is fought on the basis of practical issues rather than ideologies. There is fresh focus on different matters unheard in the past in an election campaign like economy, like reducing poverty, like the rights of minorities. This for sure shows the affect AKP party and Mr. Erdogan has on the Turkish political system.