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Erdogan's anxiety

Thomas Seibert, Istanbul / groMay 8, 2015

Turkey elects a new parliament on June 7. The ruling AKP party is at risk of losing votes, so President Erdogan is out campaigning. By doing so, he's ignoring constitutional limits, writes Thomas Seibert from Istanbul.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Präsident Türkei Rede
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

For the AKP, the party founded in 2001, the sky was the limit - until now. In 2002, they won 34 percent of the vote, which assured them an absolute majority in parliament and the reins of government. After that, they gained even more ground, reaching 46 percent in 2007 and 50 percent in 2011.

However, it could be different this time. Polls show that the Islamic-Conservative party is, once again, way ahead of the competition, but most of the surveys put them between 40 and 45 percent.

At first glance, this seems like a proud result for a party that has been ruling for over 12 years. But the AKP is not celebrating. A mere victory is not enough for president and former prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 61-year-old, who has remained the key figure in the AKP and government, even after his move to the highest office of the state, wants to win a majority of 330 of 550 representatives in the new parliament. After that, he wants to introduce a constitutional change to the presidential system – with himself at the top, obviously. But the AKP is nowhere close to that right now. Even in the dream election of 2011 they only received 326 seats.

Erdogan joins the campaign fray

In addition to the AKP's downward trend, as predicated by the polls, there is a new problem for the party: If the Kurdish party HDP clears the 10-percent threshold to make it to parliament, it would pose a risk to the AKP's absolute majority in parliament. All of this has led the president to hit the campaign trail. Erdogan wants to take part in over 30 events between now and election day. On Sunday, May 10, he will be in the German city of Karlsruhe to solicit Turkish votes in Germany.

Erdogan in Köln
Erdogan also made public appearances in Cologne in May 2014Image: picture alliance/AA

The opposition views Erdogan's activities as a clear violation of election rules prescribed by the constitution for the president. As president, he is supposed to stay out of daily politics and is not allowed to be a member of a political party.

Erdogan is, nonetheless, ignoring the required neutrality. The president is known as a brilliant election campaigner and his presence overshadows AKP party leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Considering the significance of the election in June, no one can expect "to shut me out," Erdogan said on Friday.

By joining the fray, the president is openly violating the constitution, journalist Yavuz Baydar told DW. Baydar has been noticing "obvious signs of panic" in Erdogan and the AKP for weeks. The governing party is losing voters and has not yet found a remedy for this. The economy also plays a part: In past months, economic growth has slowed and unemployment has gone up.

Unease over Erdogan's behavior

But there is no certainty that Erdogan can stop the trend. Even AKP sympathizers are uneasy about Erdogan's disregard for the presidential rules, says columnist Semih Idiz. "They are asking themselves if this is a taste of the new presidential system, seeing as Erdogan can do whatever he wants," he told DW. It is quite possible that many AKP voters may be defecting to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), or smaller Islamic and right-wing nationalist parties.

According to several election forecasts, the AKP could be forced to form a coalition after the election, or be obliged to occasionally collaborate with other parties in parliament. This holds especially true if the Kurdish party manages to enter parliament: That's why keeping the Kurdish party below ten percent has become an important AKP election goal. Erdogan has been giving a noticeably higher number of speeches in the Kurdish part of Turkey's eastern Anatolian region.