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Media advisory: Turkey’s snap elections couldn’t come at a worse time, expert says

Monday, October 26, 2015

LAWRENCE – Neighbored by warring countries and flooded with refugees, Turkey will hold general elections Sunday, Nov. 1, for the second time in five months. A scholar at the University of Kansas is available to speak about what’s at stake in the snap elections and can discuss possible outcomes.

Michael Wuthrich, assistant director for the Center for Global and International Studies, is an expert on the history of Turkish elections and author of “National Elections in Turkey: People, Politics, and the Party System,” which was published by Syracuse University Press this summer. In his book, Wuthrich reviews 65 years of Turkish elections and details four patterns he found that challenge conventional wisdom on Turkish politics.

Q: Describe the current political situation in Turkey?

Wuthrich: Turkish society is on razor’s edge as they approach snap elections. They are going to the polls again after the governing party of 13 years, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), failed to gain a majority of seats in parliament in June and their half-hearted attempts to form a coalition broke down. This is the first time in Turkey’s history of democratic elections (since 1950) that they have had to resort to a snap election, and it could not come at a worse time.

Turkey is currently facing state failure in neighboring Syria and Iraq, approximately 2 million Syrians milling about within Turkey’s borders, a breakdown of the peace process between the Turkish state and the militant Kurdish nationalist PKK and gruesome suicide bombings of government-opposing, Kurdish-leftist peace rallies in July and October that were supposedly instigated by groups in league with or sympathetic with the Islamic State. The polarizing politics and zero-sum-game of political parties is the last element that the citizens of Turkey need from their political elites.

Q: What do you see as possible outcomes of Sunday’s election?

Wuthrich: It is not clear that much of anything will be gained from the upcoming elections. High-stakes political polarization, particularly between supporters of the AKP and the legal party supporting Kurdish rights, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and competition for the same electorate will likely cause these parties’ supporters to freeze their votes — or they might swap defectors. If the AKP happens to achieve a majority of seats (they need 18 more seats to have a majority), it will likely occur at the expense of the conservative right, Nationalist Action Party (MHP), as this party and its leadership have failed to develop a coherent political strategy post the June election and its electorate is most-sympathetic of the opposition parties to the AKP.

What influence will voter turnout have?

Wuthrich: Voters in Turkey have long despised coalition governments and crave the stability that comes from single-party majority governments, but the majority of Turkey’s citizens appear to also not want the AKP to be that single-party majority they dream of. Such an impasse could potentially cause disillusionment among voters for opposition parties, particularly the MHP; therefore, voter turnout in the election may likely be the deciding factor in whether or not the AKP gets a parliamentary majority. If voter turnout is down, it will likely cause a skew in the vote total towards the AKP, and to a lesser extent, the HDP.

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