Turkey’s Critical Election

ISTANBUL – In very few democracies could such a small shift in votes lead to outcomes as different as the ones that could result from Turkey’s general election on June 7. A swing of less than 1% of the national vote could decide whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is forced to form a coalition government – Turkey’s first after 13 years of single-party rule – leaving it unable to fulfill President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s longstanding desire to strengthen the presidency.

Turkish elections have been boring affairs since the AKP came to power in 2002. The party’s results have been all but preordained: landslide victories and majority governments. This year, however, the outlook is different: the results are far from certain, and the stakes could hardly be higher. Riding on the outcome is not only Erdoğan’s political future, but also the potential for a long-term settlement with the country’s Kurds and the long-term soundness of Turkish democracy itself.

The uncertainty this time around is attributable to the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Kurdish political parties shied away from contesting past elections, owing to their fear of failing to clear the 10% popular-vote threshold needed to enter the parliament. Instead, Kurdish politicians would run as independent candidates, who are not subject to the threshold. Once safely in office, they would reunite under the banner of a party.

This year, however, the Kurdish political movement has decided to field its candidates as members of a single party. This electoral strategy, though risky, could yield large rewards, with the outcome holding significant implications for the party’s immediate fortune – as well as for Turkey’s long-term prospects.