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The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is attempting to lower the country’s election threshold in parliament, which is the highest in Europe, ahead of a general election next year. EurActiv Turkey contributed to this article.

Background

The European countries whose election thresholds exceed 5% are Moldova (6%), Georgia (7%), Russia (7%) and Liechtenstein (8%).

According to a study published by the Harvard Law School in the US, there is no doubt that the current 10% election threshold in Turkey deprives a large proportion of the population from being represented in parliament.

The 2002 election led to a ‘crisis of representation’, since 45.3% of the vote – about 14.5 million people – was not represented.

In Turkey, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) has already proposed lowering the threshold to 5%, while the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has suggested a 3% threshold.

Hakkı Suha Okay, vice-president and spokesperson for the socialist-affiliated CHP party, submitted a bill to parliament on 8 July in a last-ditch attempt to lower the country’s election threshold ahead of a general election next year.

A 10% threshold is required for parliamentary representation and the CHP wants to see it lowered to 7%.

Okay tried to make his case during a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday (15 July).

However, it is far from certain that his attempt will succeed. Legislative elections in Turkey are scheduled for 22 July 2011. As changes to the electoral law cannot be made in the year preceding the elections, members of parliament have only a few days to decide whether to lower the threshold for the next election.

CHP leaders argue that the current electoral system is unfair. “In 2002, a parliament was established with a rate of 55% valid votes,” Okay said, noting that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of ruling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received 34.2% of the vote and 363 seats from a total of 550.

“The representational rate of AKP within parliament was 66%. That means 43% of Turkish citizens were not represented,” Okay said.

The bill’s aim is to bring the principles of “consistency in administration” and “fair representation” together within the framework of the Turkish Constitution, Okay said.

Of the 23 European countries that have electoral thresholds, 19 have a national threshold of 5% or less. The average threshold for these 23 states is 4.6%.

According to an OSCE report, the 10% national threshold in Turkey’s electoral system virtually eliminates the possibility of regional or minority parties entering the Turkish Grand National Assembly and distorts the essential purpose of a proportional system.

However, it is difficult to say if lowering the threshold to 7% will make a difference to Turkish politics. During the 2007 election, the AKP obtained 46.66% of the vote, followed by the CHP with 20.85% and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 14.28%. No other party made it to parliament, with the Democratic Party (DP) closest to the 10% barrier with 5.41%.

Turkey is holding a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms in September, which may speed up political developments. Commentators are not ruling out early elections either.

The CHP (Republican People’s Party) was founded by Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), the founder of modern Turkey. It is now the largest opposition party, having won 21% in the latest national election.

Since the recent election of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as CHP leader (EurActiv 26/05/10), the party’s approval rating has surged above 30% in opinion polls.

The CHP is a member of Socialist International.

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