Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finland election 2015-a return to continuity

The European country of Finland will be holding an election to the unicameral Eduskunta, or parliament on the 19th of April. Finland is currently governed by a broad four party pro-EU majority coalition, led by centre-right Prime Minister Alexander Stubb. The election looks to be an interesting contest, but the fragmented political landscape of Finland makes government formation difficult to pick.


Finland has only recently become an independent country. It was governed by Sweden until the early 19th century, and then came under the government of the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution, Finland declared independence. An attempt to form a monarchy failed, and Finland became an democratic republic, with a president elected by an electoral college.

In the early elections, the Social Democrats were the largest party. However, they did not have a majority, and had little support from the other parties due to their poor relations with the Soviet Union. Most governments were formed by coalitions of the ruralist Agrarian Party and the right-wing National Coalition.

The first Social Democrat government was formed in 1927, with the backing of the Agrarian Party. This government lasted a year, but fell, and was replaced by an Agrarian-only minority. Governments after this were led by the National Coalition, the Agrarians, and the liberal Progressive Party. Social Democrats were included in some governments, but did not lead them. 

Finland's political environment was extremely fragmented, with no party winning more than a quarter of the vote. The right-wing parties were generally able to form a majority government, but occasionally the Social Democrats were able to form a coalition government, usually with the Agrarian Party. The far-left People's Democratic Party also participated in governments, but their influence waned over the years. During most of this period, the Social Democrats held the Presidency.

In 1991, the Social Democrats lost their status as the largest party for the first time to the Centre Party. However, this Centre-led government was unpopular, and the 1995 election resulted in the Social Democrats returning to the position of largest party, with 28% of the vote. This allowed Paavo Lipponen, the Social Democratic leader to become Prime Minister in a broad coalition including the National Coalition, the Greens and the Left Alliance (the renamed People's Democratic Party). This government was re-elected: however, the Social Democrats only won 22%. Lipponen is still the longest serving leader of Finland.

In 2002,  the Centre Party became the biggest party, winning 55 seats (out of 200), despite coming second in the popular vote. They formed a coalition with the Social Democrats and the Swedish People's Party. However, leader Anneli Jaatteenmaki was forced to resign over a scandal involving confidential documents from the Foreign Ministry. She led the second shortest government in Finland's history, lasting only 68 days.

She was replaced by Matti Vanhanen, who ran the country with a similar coalition. However, the Social Democrats left coalition in 2007, and were replaced by the Greens and National Coalition.

The 2010 election was extremely odd. The governing Centre Party were badly defeated, losing 16 seats and 15% of the vote. All parties lost seats, with the exception of the anti-immigration Finns Party. While the Finns Party had been in previous parliaments, they were only a marginal presence. After the 2010 election, they had 39 seats, making them the third largest party. The Social Democrats and National Coalition came second and first respectively

The government formed after this election was a broad coalition of the Social Democrats, the National Coalition, the Greens, the Swedish People's Party, the Left Alliance and the Christian Democrats. The government was led by National Coalition leader Jyrki Katainen, who was replaced by incumbent Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

In 2012, a Presidential election took place. The National Coalition candidate, Sauli Niinisto,came first in the first round, winning 37% to 18% for the Green candidate, 17% for the Centre candidate, 9% for the Finns Party candidate, and a measly 7% for the Social Democrat candidate, Paavo Lipponen. In the second round, Niinesto won easily, winning 62% to just 37% for the Green.

Electoral system

The Finnish electoral system is a party-list proportional representation system, as is common in Europe. The system uses 13 multi-member constituencies, which are shown below.
Electoral districts of Finland (Wikimedia)
Each constituency elects between 22 (Helsinki, 01 on the map) and 1 (Aland, 05 on this map) Members of Parliament. Members are elected using the D'Hondt system.
A Finnish ballot paper (Andrew Reynolds)
Lists are fully open. Voters vote by writing the number of the candidate that they wish to vote for. Candidates and their numbers are shown on posters inside the polling station.

Presidential elections use the two-round system. Elections are direct, and have been so since 1988.

Party prospects

National Coalition Party

The National Coalition Party is a fairly typical European centre-right party. They are fairly socially liberal: the party officially supports same-sex marriage and multiculturalism. They support economic liberalism. The party is pro-EU and pro-NATO membership. 

They were formed at the time of Finland's independence by monarchists as a strongly conservative party. They were also strongly anti-communist, which meant that they were rarely involved in governments until the 1990s. The party's vote has hovered around 20% since the 1970s. At the last election, they became the largest party, winning 20.4% and 44 seats. 

At this election, they look unlikely to hold on to this status. They are polling at about 16%-17%, which is about the same as the Social Democrats. This does not necessarily mean that they will not form government, but it does mean that their position will be considerably weakened. In fact, given that they will have the most partners in the new parliament, it looks likely that they will return to government in some form.

Social Democratic  Party

The Social Democrats have traditionally been Finland's largest party; however, as detailed above, that does not necessarily mean that they have been most often in government. The party's strong stance against the Soviet Union meant that the Soviet government, which bordered Finland, was reluctant to support a cabinet with Social Democrat support. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, the Social Democrats took a leading role in government.

Opinion polls have been fairly consistent for the SDP recently. They have been polling at around 16-17%, and are in a close race with the National Coalition. Their alliance with the National Coalition does not seem to have reduced their support dramatically, which is perhaps due to Finns being used to broad coalitions. They will be likely to stay in government after the election, possibly with the Prime Ministership.

Finns Party

The Finns Party were the big news story of the 2011 election. A previously marginal right-wing party that managed only 4% in 2007, they managed third place in 2011, winning 39 seats and 19%. This was rather surprising, but given the rise in radical right parties across Europe at that point, the result was not unprecedented.

The party is a Finnish nationalist group. They support a welfare state, with higher pensions and progressive taxation, paid for by stopping immigration (of course). They are strongly opposed to EU and NATO membership, but prefer NATO to the EU. They support neutrality for Finland, and are relatively hostile to Russia. They are opposed to immigration.

They look likely to lose seats. They are polling around 14-15%, a drop of 5%.  This loss makes it even more unlikely that they will enter government, but they will be a significant opposition force.

Centre Party

The Centre Party is a liberal centrist agrarian party in the Scandinavian tradition. They were previously called the Agrarian League, but changed their name in an attempt to broaden their appeal. The party's centrist status has allowed them to play a significant role in governments. They are fairly accommodating to Russia, which has also allowed them to win the support of the Soviet Union and given them significant positions in government. They are fairly Eurosceptic, but they are unlikely to 

Opinion polls show that the Centre Party are likely to become the biggest party, with about 25-26% of the vote. This, and I must emphasize this, does not mean that they automatically become the government. In fact, the Centre Party's accommodating strategy towards Russia is likely to be more of a handicap in the campaign.

The others

The Green League is a centrist green-liberal party, which is pro-EU. It is currently in government, and they have two seats in the cabinet: the Ministry for the Environment (surprise!) and the Ministry for International Development. They look likely to win a few extra seats, and about 8% of the vote (up from 7%).

The Left Alliance is the successor to the People's Democratic Party. They are a far-left party, vague on the EU, supportive of social justice, and are generally full of the lovely fluffy stuff that plagues that part of the political spectrum. They were part of government, but pulled out in 2014 because of public service cuts. Polls give them about the same figures as in 2011 (about 8%).

The Swedish People's Party are a party that might confuse people at first, but there is a basis for them. They are there to support the Swedish-speaking population of Finland, about 5.4% of the Finnish population. They are a liberal centrist party, and in recent years have been attempting to attract attention from non-Swedish liberals. The party has consistently been willing to participate in governments, and are members of the current government, where they hold the positions of Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice. They are polling about what they got in 2011 (5%).

Finally, the Christian Democrats. They are a relatively traditional, socially conservative, soft Eurosceptic, Christian political party. They are in government (yes, with the Greens and Left Alliance), and they hold the position of Ministry of the Interior (everything all the other departments don't cover). The polls give them a solid 4% (same as 2011).

Election 2015-the continuity election

Finland's 2015 election looks set to be a rather dull contest. Bar a sudden spike for the Finns Party, or a tilt towards Russia by the Centre Party, the result looks to be a return to the politics before Euroscepticism. My prediction, by the way, is a National Coalition-Social Democrat-Green League-Swedish People's-Christian Democrat government (exactly the same as now).

The election may provide some comfort to those politicians struggling with Euroscepticism; it can go away. However, no one can predict the future, and it is easily possible that a further downturn in the economy could erode support for the government, and lead to a comeback from the Finns Party.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

NSW election 2015-who are the unknown ballot groups?

The New South Wales election is due to be held on the 28th of March. I haven't had much time to write recently, and for more information on this particular election, visit the ABC's guide.

As I write this post, nominations for both houses are closed. There are 540 candidates for the lower house (an average of 6 per seat) and 394 candidates in the upper house. The latter figure is a record, and it is mostly due to the rather onerous requirements for parties in the Upper House.

After the 1999 election, which used Single Transferable Voting with Group Tickets  and which resulted in both an enormous number of candidates and the election of certain candidates with extremely low shares of the primary vote, a number of reforms were introduced. For a start, party registration fees were increased, and party membership requirements were increased.

However, another big change was introduced. Above-the-line voting was retained, but under the new rules, an above-the-line vote counted only for the candidates in the group that was below it. So, if you voted for the Liberal Party 1 above the line, your vote would go 1 for the first Liberal, 2 for the second, and so on until you got to the end of the Liberals, at which point your vote would exhaust.

However, you could also use preferences above the line. So, if you voted Liberal 1 and Christian Democrats 2 above the line, when your vote got to the end of the Liberals, it would go to the number 1 candidate of the Christian Democrats, and the number 2 candidate, and so on.

Why did this system make fielding candidates harder for small parties? Well, under the NSW Constitution, a voter must cast fifteen preferences in order to cast a formal vote. As a result, in order to secure an above-the-line box, a party needs to nominate fifteen candidates, compared to only two under the previous system. This means that they need to pay $5000, a significant sum which is only returned if a candidate is elected or the group gets 4%, and get fifteen people on the ballot paper.

Anyway, this is why there are so many candidates on the ballot paper. But, there is another oddity on the NSW Legislative Council ballot paper. There are eight ballot groups with no party affiliation. Six of them have above-the-line boxes; for some reason, the other two have only two candidates, and voters for them will be required to vote below the line (voters below the line only have to mark 15 boxes).

Most parties at least give you a basic idea of what they stand for in the name. One would assume that the No Land Tax party, for instance, stood for abolishing the land tax (although, given the recent troubles for the Palmer United Party, that name may not be an accurate description of the party). However, these ballot groups provide no information for the voter on the ballot.

Below, I will try to give NSW voters a vague guide to the policies of these candidates, or at least try to .

As you will no doubt know, on NSW Legislative Council ballot papers, groups are ordered left to right, and are given letters based on their draw. The closest group to the left is A, the second closest is B, and so on. In this post, I will identify groups by their letters. For full group listings, the ABC site is here.

Group D

Group D is headed by former Palmer United Party candidate for Chifley Christopher Buttel. Buttel won 4% at that particular electoral outing. According to his Facebook account, he lives in Penrith.

Whether or not he is the official candidate of the Palmer United Party (which is not registered in NSW) is unclear. The official PUP website makes no mention of Group D, and self-described National Treasure Clive Palmer makes no comment as to his intentions regarding the NSW election.

None of the other Group D candidates are findable on Google. Without Palmer support, or Palmer money, or even the Palmer name, this wannabe Palmer team looks unlikely to get anywhere.

I emailed the Palmer United Party to ask whether they endorsed or had any affilation with this group. They replied that "they were not standing any candidates" in the election, which was somewhat irrelevant.

Group H

Apparently, this is something called the Strata Party. This seems to have something to do with this. It seems to be about legal rights for people who live in apartments. It's a single issue party, and the issue is fleshed out more on the website. Their third candidate, John Hutchinson, was a One Nation candidate in 1999 (I think), but there are no other indications of their political affilations. Their second preference group is the Future Party, or Group M.

Group J

This one is headed by James Liu, and appears to be aimed at the Chinese community. Liu ran as an ungrouped Independent for the Legislative Council, recieving 0.03%. Quite good for an ungrouped Independent. There is little information regarding Liu, however he is mentioned in a speech of former ALP Legislative Councillor Henry Tsang as a member of his campaign team. Maybe a Labor man?

Group M

Finally, a simple one! This group is headed by James Jansson, a member of the Future Party. The party's policies include the building of a new city called 'Turing' between Sydney and Canberra, researching nuclear energy, republicanism, and building high-speed rail and driverless cars. If that's your kind of thing, the Future Party is for you.

Group P

Group P seems to be a vague collection of independents, rather than a political party. Their number one candidate Andrew Thaler has a website here, but little policy. Kate Schwager, the number 2 candidate also has a site, which is a bit heavier on policy. She seems to be focusing on rural issues. The only other candidate with a website is Venica Wilson, who is number 6 on the ticket

Group U

Jennifer Stefanac, a self-described "Advocate for Social and Political Change", leads this team of two, which has no above-the-line box (good luck with that). She was a Palmer United Party candidate for the Newcastle by-election, and during that campaign wrote a sort of statement of values. If you like that, by all means vote for her ticket, but remember that you must vote for 13 other candidates.

Group V

This is another easy one. Ron Pike is a water consultant, and appears to be running in this election to support rural issues. Apparently, he has the support of the 'Country Party of Australia', some outfit running on rural issues. Here is the party website.

Group W

Ticket leader Warwick Erwin is apparently a 'rail trail enthusiast' here, and appears to be campaigning for that sort of thing. His number 2 candidate, Ray Robinson, is apparently this guy, who is opposed to coal seam gas mining. Anyway, again, if you like the look of this pair and you know another 13 candidates, go ahead.


Running as a candidate in the NSW election is an expensive process, and it is in the best interest of someone who has spent that money to promote themselves in order to get their deposit back. However, the tickets I have written about are clearly neglecting this; certain candidates, including Group W and Group J have virtually no information on their platforms and policies. It seems unlikely that these candidates will win; whether they would win with adequate self-promotion is unclear.

If any of these candidates wish to add anything, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Estonia election 2015

An election to the unicameral Estonian parliament, or the Riigikogu, took place on the 1st of March. Usually, electoral events in Estonia are affairs focused on local affairs. However, because of the recent events in the Ukraine, elections in Eastern Europe have become contests that are very relevant throughout Europe. The Estonian election results were considered a tilt towards Europe and the West, and a move away from Russia.


Estonia has only become independent relatively recently. Until 1921, the country was under the control of Russia. From 1921 to 1939, the country was an independent republic. In 1939, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by a rigged election, but this was short lived, as Nazi Germany defeated the Soviets and won control of Estonia in 1941. Again, in 1944, the Soviet Union regained control of Estonia. This time, it was for good.

Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, Estonia became more open during the 1980s. However, many Estonians were still concerned about Russification, especially the teaching of the Russian language in Estonian schools.

In 1991, Estonia became independent. The Supreme Soviet, the rubber-stamp legislature of Communist-ruled Estonia, was democratically elected for the first time in 1990, and a pro-independence majority was elected. A Declaration of Independence and a Constitution were adopted by this parliament.

A democratic election was held in 1992, under this new constitution. Mart Laar was elected Prime Minister as leader of the conservative Fatherland Bloc. Laar's government fell as a result of a no-confidence motion two years later. He was replaced by Social Democrat Andres Tarand.

At the 1995 election, the right-wing liberal Coalition Party formed to government. The Coalition Party led the government for three years, but collapsed at the 1999 election, winning only 7 seats (out of 101, down from 41 in 1995). The pro-Russian Centre Party won the most seats, but did not form government. Instead, the conservative Pro Patria party formed a coalition with the Social Democrats and the liberal Reform Party, led by Mart Laar.

Laar was Prime Minister for three years. However, ahead of the 2003 elections, the Reform Party withdrew from government. They formed a coalition with the centre-left pro-Russian Centre Party, and Siim Kallas, the Reform leader, was elevated to the Prime Ministership.

In the 2003 elections, the Centre Party and the new right-wing Res Publica party won the equal most seats (28 out of 101). The Res Publica party formed a coalition with the Reform Party and the small centrist People's Union, and Res Publica leader Juhan Parts was elected Prime Minister.

Parts resigned in 2005, and was replaced by Reform Party member Andrus Ansip. Ansip led the Reform Party to victory in the 2007 and 2011 elections, before resigning ahead of the 2015 elections.

Why is this election important?

As we know, the Ukraine, another ex-Soviet country, is currently involved in a civil war between pro-EU government forces and pro-Russia rebel forces. Russia claims that they have no involvement with the war, but in any case, the Russian government seems to be increasing their political presence in Eastern European countries.

We saw this in Moldova, where the heavily pro-Russian Socialist Party came out of nowhere to become the largest party in the Moldovan Parliament in the 2014 elections. In Hungary, the ruling Fidesz party has become increasingly pro-Russia and anti-EU, while Czech Republic president Milos Zeman is an outspoken supporter of Vladimir Putin. Elections in Eastern Europe are increasingly becoming contests between pro-Russia and pro-EU forces.

This is where Estonia comes into the picture. Estonia has a significant Russian population, left over from attempts by the Soviets to populate it during the Communist period. This population are generally opposed to European integration, and support a stronger role for Russia in Estonia affairs. They generally support the Centre Party.

While Russia and the Soviet legacy have traditionally been significant topics in Russia, especially in the Bronze Soldier affair and questions around the teaching of Russian, the events in Ukraine and the atmosphere between the EU and Russia makes this an interesting and important election.

The results

Estonia uses a multi-tier system of party-list proportional representation, and has a 101 member parliament, which is relatively large for a country with a voting population under 1 million, compared to Australia. 

The results
As you can see from my not very good table (new office program), the Reform Party came out on top, with about 28% of the vote. Centre came second, with 25%. 

The results were a small drop for the Reform Party, which lost three seats. These losses were mostly at the expense of the new Free Party, a centre-right liberal conservative party, and the far-right Conservative People's Party. The Centre Party gained one seat, but stayed behind the Reform Party.

The Centre Party is extremely isolated in the new parliament. Before the troubles in Ukraine, other parties were willing to form coalitions with them. However, the close ties of the party and its leader Edgar Savisaar to Vladimir Putin and United Russia have created concern amongst ethnic Estonians that a Centre government will bring Estonia closer to Russia.

As a result, a Reform-led government was a certainty. The Conservative People's Party were out, because of their extremism, which left a coalition with two of the Free Party, Pro Patria-Res Publica and Social Democrats. For more information on the government formation process, here's an interesting Fruits and Votes post.

The eventual coalition was a Reform-Free Party-Social Democrat government. These parties are relatively pro-EU, and are likely to lead Estonia away from Russian influence, which seems to be the wish of the Estonian majority.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Turkish election 2015-a guide

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Turkish election 2015-a guide to party prospects

Turkey will be heading to the polls in three months, in an election that does not look to be overly competetive. However, the election results will be interesting. It is generally expected that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will be re-elected to a majority government. However, the margin, and the circumstances in which the election is held, will be interesting and will be very meaningful for the future of the country.


Turkey, in the republican form we know today, is a relatively young country. The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Ataturk, in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1. 

Ataturk believed in a strong state, and supported a secular Turkey. The new Constitution contained these principles. The Republic was governed by a National Assembly, and an indirectly elected President. Ataturk formed a political party called the Republican People's Party (CHP), which he made the only legal party.

Under Ataturk's rule, Turkey went through a period of fast modernisation, with women receiving equal rights and education being improved dramatically. Ataturk actually introduced a Hat Law making it mandatory for public servants to wear panama hats. He insisted upon the assimilation of Turkey's cultures into one nation. He also supported an official separation between church and state.

After his death in 1938, something of a power vacuum emerged in Turkey. Ataturk is a revered figure to this day, and any insult to his memory is illegal.

He was replaced as president by Ismet Inonu, who introduced multi-party elections. In the 1950 elections, the CHP was defeated by the centre-right Democrat Party, which was led by Celal Bayar. Bayar ruled until 1960, when the Democrat government was overthrown in a coup.

The coup members executed Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and certain members of his cabinet. Civilian government, at least in name, was restored within a month. Elections were held in 1961, and Ismet Inonu was elected to the post of Prime Minister. The Democrat Party had been superseded by the Justice Party.

From  1961 to 1971, single-party CHP and Justice governments alternated in office. A coup took place in 1971 in response to an increase in terrorism by the far-left and far-right, and martial law was declared in a significant number of province. Democracy was restored in 1973.

The 1973 election produced a hung parliament, with the Islamist National Salvation Party holding the balance of power. The CHP, being the largest party, entered into a coalition with the National Salvation Government. This awkward coalition didn't last, with the CHP leaving coalition and the government of CHP Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit collapsing. A new government, a coalition of the Justice Party, the National Salvation Party, and the Nationalist Movement Party, a small far-right party.

The 1977 election gave the CHP a large amount of seats: 213 seats out of 450 seats. This was about 13 seats short of a majority, and Ecevit was unable to form a long-lasting coalition. However, he was able to form government in 1978. That government was defeated in Parliament in 1979, and a new Justice-led government, led by Suleyman Demirel.

In 1980, Demeriel's government was toppled in a coup. Increasing terrorism and a collapsing economy caused military officials to take power. Under military rule, hundreds of thousands of suspected terrorists, dissidents, and political activists were executed, exiled, or imprisoned.

Military government didn't last, and a referendum on a new, more democratic constitution was held in 1982. The referendum passed. However, ahead of the 1983 election, a ban was introduced on pre-coup political parties and certain pre-coup political figures from taking part. As a result, three parties contested the election: the Motherland Party, the continuation of the Justice Party, the People's Party, which was the successor of the CHP, and the Nationalist Democracy Party, a new right-wing party founded by the coup leaders. The Motherland Party won comfortably.

The Motherland Party won in 1987, too, despite the appearance of the True Path Party, a competing centre-right group.

In 1991, the election produced a confusing result. The People's Party (known then as the Social Democratic Populist Party), had split, with former CHP Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit forming a new party called Democratic Left. This led to a vote drop for the Social Democrats, who lost 4% of the vote and lost 11 seats (in a 450 member parliament) and Democratic Left won 10.4% of the vote, but only 7 seats. A new Islamist party called Welfare won 62 seats and 16% of the vote.  The previous governing Motherland Party won just 24%, and won only 115 seats (down from nearly 300 in 1987). The winner of the election was the True Path Party, which won 27% and 178 seats.

As a result, a True Path-Social Democrat coalition was formed, with True Path leader Suleyman Demirel as Prime Minister.

The 1995 election produced an extremely fragmented National Assembly. The Welfare Party won, with 21% of the vote and 158 seats (out of 550). The Motherland Party came second, with 19.6% and 132 seats, followed by the previously governing True Path Party, with 19.1% and 135 seats. Ecevit's party won 15% and 76 seats. The Social Democrats, who had renamed themselves as the Republican People's Party (CHP), came last, winning 10.17% and 49 seats.

Despite winning the most votes and seats, Welfare was unable to form a government, as most other parties were opposed to its Islamist agenda. A minority government led by True Path leader and incumbent Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, who was the first female Prime Minister, was unable to last, while Mesut Yilmaz, the Motherland Party leader, led a short-term government.

Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan eventually formed a government, with the support of True Path. However, pressure from the military and threats of a coup eventually led to his resignation. Another short-term government led by Yilmaz was formed, but collapsed quickly. Bulent Ecevit formed a caretaker government, which was re-elected in 1999. The 1999 elections were notable, in that the CHP were thrown out of parliament for the first time in their history. The Welfare Party were disbanded, and replaced by the Virtue Party.

Between 1999 and 2003, Bulent Ecevit was Prime Minister. A serious economic crisis took place in 2001, which dramatically reduced the popularity of the government. Given that most parliamentary parties were members of the government, this meant that all parties were hit.

In 2001, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former Mayor of Istanbul, formed a new party, the Justice and Development Party (the AK Party). The party was a conservative Islamist party, and many members of it had been members of the Welfare Party.  Erdogan was unable to contest a parliamentary seat, as he was in prison after reciting a poem that 'incited racial hatred'.

In the 2002 election, the AK Party won a landslide victory. Under Turkish electoral law, a party needs 10% of the vote to enter the National Assembly. No party in the previous National Assembly won this, and, despite winning only 34% of the vote, the AK Party won nearly two-thirds of the seats. The only other party to win seats was the CHP, which managed 20% of the vote and 178 seats (out of 550). Erdogan was pardoned, and was elected to parliament through a by-election  in the Kurdish seat of Sirit.

Erdogan ruled Turkey as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014. His time as Prime Minister was marked by controversy. He managed to improve Turkey's economy, reached a settlement with Kurdish militias, and reduced the possibility of a coup by removing some of the powers of the army. However, he has presided over an increase in child poverty,  a decline in working conditions, and a dismantlement of Turkey's secularism.

Constitutional change

Erdogan was dissatisfied with the position of President in Turkey. The President is elected by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, and the AK Party did not have that in time for the 2007 presidential election. As a result, the AK Party were unable to elect their preferred candidate.

A referendum was held in 2007 to decide whether Turkey should have a directly elected president. 70% voted Yes, meaning that the Presidential term would be lowered to five years (from seven), and that the President of Turkey would be directly elected. The first election was scheduled for 2014.

In the first presidential elections, three candidates decided to contest. Erdogan contested as the candidate of the AK Party, academic and president of the Islamic Co-operation Organisation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu as an independent with CHP support, and Kurdish activist Selahattin Demirtas as the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

In the election, Erdogan won 52% (thus avoiding the need for a runoff), Ihsanoglu won 38%, and Demirtas won 10%. While this looks like a ringing endorsement of Erdogan, it is important to remember that in a runoff, most of the Demirtas vote would go to Ihsanoglu, and it would be rather close.

Erdogan was replaced as Prime Minister by his Foreign Affairs minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. It is generally expected that Davutoglu will be a quiet Prime Minister, and will allow Erdogan to do most of the work.

Electoral system

Turkey uses the D'Hondt proportional representation system to elect the 550 member National Assembly. However, the system has a number of modifications.

For a start, Turkey is divided into electoral districts. The map below shows them.
Credit to Wikimedia

As you can see, the districts are geographically quite small. The largest district, Istanbul's 1st district, elects thirty members, while the smallest districts elect just two. This small size means that elections are rather disproportional.

The other modification is the 10% threshold. This modification means that any party with less than 10% of the vote will win no seats. Other countries have this, but usually their thresholds are 5-3%.

The 10% threshold has meant that strong local results for certain parties have gone unrewarded. For instance, in the district of Diyarbakir at the 2002 elections, the pro-Kurdish Democratic People's Party  won 56% of the vote, but none of the 10 seats, as they did not pass the threshold. Eight seats went to the AK Party, which had won 16%, and two went to the CHP, which had won 6%. 

Proponents of this system claim that it stops parties from winning seats with small localised support, and creates stability. This is true. However, the system has meant that significant amount of voters have gone unrepresented. In fact, in the 2002 election, 47% of voters voted for parties that did not win seats.

The parties

Justice and Development Party (AK Party)

The AK Party will be going into this election in a strong position. Despite controversies over workers' rights, civil rights, and generally anything with the word rights on the end, a relatively strong record of economic development and a weak and divided opposition is likely to hand the AK Party another term in office.

What they will do with that term is a wholly different matter. The AK Party has been accused of covertly opposing secularism, and pushing an Islamic agenda. They have also been controversial for their reluctance to help the Kurdish militias fighting ISIS in Iraq. Erdogan and Prime Minister Davotoglu have stated that they intend to make significant changes to the Turkish constitution if re-elected, which sounds somewhat worrying.

Republican People's Party (CHP)

The Republican People's Party is Turkey's oldest political party. Founded by Ataturk, it has been around in one form or another since 1923 (excepting coup periods). The party, however, is not the group it was in Ataturk's day. 

Ideologically, they are a centre-left secular nationalist social democratic party. They have generally been considered the main opposition to the AK Party since 2002, but have generally been outfoxed by Erdogan at most turns. The party has not received more than 26%  of the vote since their reformation in 1995. 

At this election, it is generally expected that the CHP will win more votes, and more seats. However, it seems unlikely that they will form a government. Even if they did win and formed a government, President Erdogan will be in office until 2019, meaning that a CHP government would be unable to do an awful lot. Their leader, Kermal Kilicdaroglu, an ex-civil servant, has done badly in personal ratings in opinion polls.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)

I have not mentioned the MHP before in this post. However, they are a very interesting party.

They were founded in 1965, and were relatively unsuccessful, occasionally winning a handful of seats. However, they made a breakthrough in the 1999 local elections, winning 17% of the vote and coming second to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left party. They won the same vote share in the 1999 national elections.  However, they dropped out of parliament in 2002, winning 8% and no seats.

 In 2007, the party came back, winning 14% and 71 seats. They came only 5% behind the CHP. The party dropped back somewhat in 2011, winning 13% and losing 18 seats. 

The party is far-right, and Turkish nationalist. They are not overtly Islamist, instead being somewhat aligned with Ataturk's ideology. They are opposed to rights for ethnic minorities. They also oppose membership in the European Union.

Opinion polls show that the MHP is likely to win slightly more votes than in 2011. If no party wins an overall majority, it is unclear exactly who they will support.

Peace and Democracy Party (HDP)

The Kurdish minority in the east of Turkey has had relatively poor political representation. Due to alleged affiliations with far-left terrorist group the Workers Party, most Kurdish parties have been banned. The 10% threshold has kept most parties that have not been banned out of parliament. 

In order to combat this, the HDP has run its candidates as independents. Independent candidates in Turkey are permitted to run as lists with one candidate on them. These candidates are exempt from the threshold. In some heavily Kurdish provinces, the HDP has run more than one independent candidate, and used vote dividing operations to ensure that the maximum number of candidates are elected.

However, the HDP are currently polling extremely well (for a Kurdish party), and are hovering at around 9%. This presents an interesting dilemma to the HDP. Do they run independents, and win a few seats, or do they run as a party and either win a large number of seats or no seats? 

Conclusion: an important election for the Middle East

Turkey has been a rather odd country in the Middle East. Their secularism makes them unique amongst a continent dominated by Islam. The AK Party are attempting to push Turkey towards the Middle East, while the opposition is more supportive of European integration, if not full EU membership. 

This is an important battle. Turkey is a key player in the fight against ISIS, and Europeans need Turkey's cooperation.

 One of the key fighters against ISIS is the Kurdish militias. However, Turkey is reluctant to support Kurds in Iraq, for fear that they will support the terrorists in the Workers Party. It remains unclear what a change in government would do about that, but it seems likely that a CHP-HDP government would be more cooperative with the EU and USA when it comes to fighting ISIS.

The Turkish election looks rather uncompetetive at the moment. However, if the race tightens, it looks to be an interesting and important contest.