Erdoğan’s “+7” plan for gaining a majority in parliament

In the June 24 elections, the votes of two parties, the right-wing Good Party and the Islamist Felicity Party, that formed the Nation Alliance with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), turned out to be significantly below expectations.

It was expected that around 7-8 percent of votes of the Felicity Party that shifted in previous elections to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) due to the 10 percent election threshold would return, while the Good Party would take votes from the rival National Movement Party (MHP), the ally of the AKP in June 24 elections. However, both expectations proved to be false.

In the aftermath of June 24, the leaders of all political parties argued that they were successful in the elections and on the winning side. Apart from two --  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the Felicty Party’s leader, Temel Karamollaoğlu.

“We got the message our voters sent us through ballot boxes. Be sure that next time we will appear before our nation after catching up on our shortcomings,” Erdoğan said during his balcony speech on election night about the eight-point fall in the AKP’s votes; It scored 41 percent of votes compared with 49.4 percent in the November 2015 elections.

The decline in the party’s support means the AKP will aim to organise the party’s general congress and election campaign in a manner that reverses this tendency ahead of local elections set for March 30, 2019. The elections may be held earlier -- the issue was on the agenda of the first AKP administrative board meeting since the elections and headed by Erdoğan.  

The AKP’s congress, which had been scheduled for September 20, was moved one month earlier to August 18. The AKP plans to redesign its party’s window dressing and election affairs department during the congress in August so as to get ready for the “early local elections” which are expected to be held in October or November.

Karamollaoğlu, the other party leader who proved self-critical about the election results, predicted that some deputies in the parliament might join his party in the future. “We increased our votes a bit, but we were waiting for a ground swell, which did not happen. Polarisation prevented us from reaching that point. We did not act with our emotions, we did not act with rage, we did not target anyone personally. Maybe the ground swell we expected will emerge in the next elections. We earned a place in people’s hearts and minds,” Karamollaoğlu said.

The Felicity Party lost one of the three deputies it won after the votes from abroad were counted. The party will decide whether its remaining two deputies elected from the CHP list will remain in CHP or leave the party and represent the Felicity Party in the parliament.

The most important part of Karamollaoğlu’s speech was his words about expected deputy transfers to his party. “Those who are elected from other parties may be friends who in time may ascribe to our beliefs and come to join us,” Karamollaoğlu said, but the winds of deputy transfers may be in a different direction.

Rumors say Erdoğan instructed his party to analyze the deputies in other parties and to get in touch with potential targets in order to overcome the perception that he is dependent on election alliance partner, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and to reach the 301 deputies needed to have a simple majority in the Parliament.

In Ankara’s political backstage, some confidently say that after its administrative board meeting, the AKP started to make the necessary preparations for that end, got in touch with several people and received positive signals.

In fact, when the constitutional amendments adopted in the April 16 referandum in 2017 are examined carefully, it can be seen that the dependence of Erdoğan on the support of the MHP is less than what many say. AKP itself has the 200 deputies needed to launch a plenary session in the parliament. With its 294 deputies, according to the non-official results, the AKP alone is able to open the parliament and make it work. The additional number of deputies the AKP needs for reaching a simple majority will be clear when the final results are announced.

For a parliamentary motion needed to start inquiries into the president's conduct, his deputies and his ministers need a minimum of 301 votes, while at least 360 deputies should vote in favor to pass the motion. The opposition parties, even if they get the support of the MHP, do not have enough deputies for such motions. Moreover, at least 400 deputies are needed to refer the president and the members of his cabinet to the Supreme Criminal Tribunal. For passing legislative proposals, 151 votes are needed and the AKP alone has enough deputies for that. If the turnout in the parliament is high and all 600 deputies happen to be present in the parliament, then the AKP will need 301 votes to pass a bill, but that rarely happens.

The new rules for the budget also make things easier for the AKP. If the parliament rejects the budget submitted by the president, Erdoğan will be able to rule the country according to the amount set in the previous year’s budget after it is adjusted for inflation.

Erdoğan and the AKP, need the support of the MHP mainly in the parliament’s various commissions because the five parties in the assembly will be eligible to send members to those commissions. Therefore if the AKP reaches or exceeds 301 deputies, then it will not need to depend on the MHP’s support. This is why Erdoğan, who at the moment prefers to continue to cooperate with the MHP for his political strategy, at the same time is implicitly preparing to launch his plan to transfer +7 deputies.

After wasting 2018 and postponing critical decisions required to overcome the economic downturn to 2019, holding local elections earlier and using the remaining five years for the restoration of the economy have become vital issues for Erdoğan and the AKP. If the parliament adopts a constitutional bill to hold local elections this Fall, as the constitution stipulates that local elections are held in every five years, the presidential, parliamentarian, and local elections will be held in the same year from now on.

In order to secure the 400 votes needed to pass constitutional changes in the parliament without a referandum, the AKP will immediately act after the oath-taking ceremony and the announcement of the new cabinet. If Erdoğan and the AKP convince the CHP to vote in favor of constitutional changes, then it will not need any other party’s support.

The CHP appears to be positive about the possibility of early elections, according to backroom discussions. However, the CHP plans to negotiate for a “mini democratic constitutional amendment package” in exchange for offering its support to the AKP for early polls.

In case Erdoğan decides not to strike such a deal, then he will need the support of the Good Party and the mainly-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), along with the MHP, to reach 400 votes.

It is expected that the HDP will support the proposal for early local elections as it is still the leading party in many cities in east and southeast Turkey despite losing votes on June 24. It will probably win the local elections in most places in those region. As an indication of that, the HDP headquarters immediately issued a circular to the party’s local organisations, instructing them to start preparing for local elections.

The Good Party is seen as the “weakest link” within the opposition National Alliance. The results in the elections have invoked discussions in the Good Party and the fact that the party’s presidential candidate Meral Akşener’s votes were lower than the party’s overall votes in the parliamentarian elections seems to be the main issue. Akşener responded to criticism about the election results by stating that the party was established only eight months ago and that those results were achieved in a severely negative environment.

Though the party’s general-secretary Aykut Çınar denied the allegations that Akşener’s leadership has been questioned within the party, the harsh criticisms of Yusuf Halaçoğlu, one of the prominent names in the party who was not nominated in the elections, the resignation of Hayri Bulut, one of the founding names of the party right after the elections citing problems in “competence and candidate selection”, and the silence of deputy chair Ümit Özdağ, exposes troubles within the party. This is why the Good Party is at the center of Erdoğan’s strategy for attracting deputies to his own party. It is also said that Erdoğan asked his party to use its local connections to transfer CHP deputies elected from provinces where the CHP managed to win votes after many years.

Moreover, the political backstage rumors indicate that, for his new cabinet and the new offices to be formed under the new presidential system, Erdoğan will offer positions to politicians, bureaucrats,  business persons, as well as well-known names in culture and arts who are not AKP members.

People reminded others that the AKP had offered positions to various names in 2015 in order to form an election government. After the June 2015 elections, Erdoğan had prevented negotiations to form a coalition government and called snap elections in November.

At Erdoğan’s request, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the prime minister at the time, had offered ministerial positions to Meral Akşener, Tuğrul Türkeş, and Ahmet Kenan Tanrıkulu from the MHP, Deniz Baykal, Gülsüm Bilgehan, Tekin Bingöl, Erdoğan Toprak, and İlhan Kesici from the CHP, Levent Tüzel, Müslüm Doğan and Ali Haydar Konca from the HDP.   Only Tuğrul Türkeş accepted the offer among all those names and became deputy prime minister in Davutoğlu’s cabinet. He later resigned from the MHP in November 2015 and was elected a deputy from the AKP list.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.