For those of you who have not visited our “About” page, this blog is run by myself and students from the University of Puget Sound’s European Political Systems class. In the coming weeks, you will be seeing student-written blogs describing the political systems of different European countries. To give you a taste of what these will be like (and to give my students a sample of what I think a good blog looks like!), I’ll be doing their assignment on one “European” country I generally don’t let students do: Turkey.
So, for this blog, I present to you a summary of how Turkey elects its parliament. You can read the full blog prompt, and my general thoughts on this assignment, at the bottom of this post.
Turkey has a unicameral parliament known as the Büyük Millet Meclisi (that would be “Grand National Assembly” for English-speakers). It is comprised of 550 members elected every 4 years using a proportional representation (PR) system. Like all PR systems, Turkish voters elect parties (not candidates).
We tend to associate proportional representation with many political parties and a broad spectrum of representation, but Turkey’s electoral system has a number of elements that make it difficult for small parties and minorities to receive seats (a serious point of contention for their Kurdish minority!). The entire country is divided into 79 electoral districts with an average of 7 candidates elected from each district; as a result, a political party needs to pick up roughly 10-15% of the vote in their district to win even a single seat. Turkey also has a 10% national threshold, meaning that even if a party does well in one district, they must receive 10% of the national vote to receive any seats in parliament. Beyond these electoral rules, Turkey’s criminal code also makes it difficult for some minority parties due to laws that ban certain topics from the political discourse (you can read a critique on these laws here).
Despite these challenge, the pro-Kurdish BDP has figured out a loophole in these rules by running their candidates as a network of independents (meaning they run as if they were not affiliated with a party). 29 of these BDP “independents” were elected in the 2011 Parliamentary election, making them the fourth largest party in the parliament!
To get a sense of how Turkey compares to other PR systems on political openness, we might examine the Czech Republic (we could also pick the Netherlands, home of one of the most open PR systems, but as a social scientist, I prefer to not bias my results!). The Czechs elect their 200-member Poslanecka Snemovna (Chamber of Deputies) in 14 districts (roughly 14 candidates per district, so twice as many as Turkey) and a threshold of 5%. Taken together, these differences mean it is almost twice as hard for Turkey’s small party to achieve representation than it would be if they were running in the Czech system. Given these electoral rules, it comes as no surprise that Turkey’s party system looks more like a plurality system like the UK or the US than a typical PR country. For instance, Turkish politics largely revolves around 4 main parties; however, after the 2011 election, their two largest parties – the AKP (Justice and Development Party) and the CHP (Republican People’s Party) – filled almost 84% of the assembly seats. This is much more like the UK, where the Conservatives and Labor currently comprise roughly 87% of the parliament, than the Czech Republic where the 2 largest parties are currently only 54% of the parliament.
However, before we judge Turkey too harshly on this representation issue, a 2007 European Court of Human Rights case (Yumak and Sadak v. Turkey) ruled that while Turkey’s 10% electoral threshold was excessive (and they suggest the government consider lowering it to improve representation), it does not violate the right to free elections.
- Czech Republic. 17 March 2011. Retrieved from the Interparliamentary Union PARLINE Database at http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2083_A.htm
- First Past the Post. 18 February 2012. Retrieved from ACE: The Electoral Knowledge Network at http://aceproject.org/main/english/es/esd01.htm
- OSCE/ODIHR. 12 June 2011. Election Assessment Mission Report for the Republic of Turkey Parliamentary Elections. Retrieved from http://www.osce.org/odihr/84588
- Parties and Elections in Europe. 2012. Retrieved from http://www.parties-and-elections.de/countries.html.
- Reporters Without Borders. 1 December 2010. Time to break out of legislative straitjacket that is stifling media freedom. Retrieved from http://en.rsf.org/turkey-time-to-break-out-of-legislative-01-12-2010,38933.html
- Turkey. 20 January 2012. Retrieved from the Interparliamentary Union PARLINE Database at http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2323_A.htm
- Yumak and Sadak v. Turkey. ECHR 10226/03 (30 January 2007). Retrieved from the European Court of Human Rights portal at http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?action=html&documentId=813250&portal=hbkm&source=externalbydocnumber&table=F69A27FD8FB86142BF01C1166DEA398649
The Assignment Prompt
Describe your country’s legislature and explain how representatives are chosen to serve in the lower house of parliament. Give a general description of the electoral system used to elect the lower house of your country’s parliament.
Info to include:
- What is the name of your country’s parliament?
- Does your country have one or two houses of parliament?
- How many representatives are there in each house?
- Which house is more powerful (i.e. which one actually makes policy)?
- What type of electoral system does your country use (plurality, run-off, proportional representation, or mixed)?
- On the ballot, do the voters of your country select candidates, political parties, or both?
- How many districts/constituencies are there? How are winners determined?
- If your country uses PR, does it have an electoral threshold?
Blog-writing tip for students: I always write at least 2 drafts of each blog. I write the first draft, then read over it VERY critically to eliminate any awkward phrasing or unnecessary words / information. Since this was a longer, research driven blog, I wrote a third draft. I waited a day after my first rewrite, which allowed me to come back to the paper from a fresh perspective. You will be amazed about what you missed in the first re-write – I sure was!
My assessment of the sample: As you can see, my above blog presented all the required information, but gave it a theme – what Turkey’s electoral rules mean for minority representation. The research side of this goes a bit above and beyond what most students will be doing (after all, most of them don’t read ECHR court cases in their free time!), and pictures are completely optional, but I think this gives a basic idea on what I expect to see in the best sort of blogs.
Since visuals help a lot in making blogs interesting, I wish I could have found a good picture of the ballot for the 2011 Turkish parliamentary election to include in this post. If anyone finds a good picture, please send me a link!