The incumbent Justice and Development Party's (AKP) share of the vote in the local elections to be held on March 30 has become a critical issue for the future of the political scene in Turkey.
This share will have a decisive outcome on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's decision to run, or not, in the presidential election this summer. Since the prime minister would not become a president with limited executive power, which is the case at present, his decision will depend not only on comfortable electoral support for the AKP on March 30, say above 45 percent, but particularly on the possibility of winning a referendum majority (more than 330 seats) in the general elections that will follow the presidential election. Indeed, the only possibility of transforming the current parliamentary system into a presidential or semi-presidential one that will allow the president of republic to become the head of the executive is to have a referendum majority in Parliament that will enable the AKP to change the constitution.
We know that this is not possible with 50 percent electoral support. In the general elections of June, 2011, the AKP with a share of 49.8 percent could only take 327 seats, lacking a few seats for the referendum majority. Obtaining more than 330 seats within the rules of the existing electoral system requires electoral support of over 50 percent. Given the impact of the probe scandals as well of the current economic turmoil on the AKP's electoral support, a share of over 50 percent seems out of reach. Actually, the most favorable surveys predict electoral support of 47-48 percent, while this support decreases to 41-42 percent in other surveys. Nevertheless, there is an alternative way for the AKP to obtain the referendum majority. If the current electoral system is reformed by narrowing the constituencies (maximum five seats), my simulation model predicts that the referendum majority threshold would decrease from 50 percent to roughly 45 percent. This electoral reform is not politically difficult to implement, all the more since the electoral threshold for seats in Parliament will be at the same time decreased from 10 percent to 5 percent, as suggested by Erdoğan. So, the political scenario in the aftermath of March 30 has to be designed according to the AKP's share of the vote.
One can consider two basic scenarios. Let's assume that the AKP's electoral support decreases to below 45 percent. In this case, Erdoğan will hesitate to run in the presidential election. Admittedly, he may be sure about winning the presidency in the second round, but he cannot be sure about winning the referendum majority in the general elections. In this scenario it is probable that Erdoğan will be obliged to abandon his ambition for a presidential system. This could open the way for a new strategy for the AKP in which the key item will be a compromise between the AKP and the main opposition party over a new constitution. Certainly, some important uncertainties would remain. If Erdoğan decides to continue as prime minister, he is obliged to make a U-turn on his insistence on a three-term limit. This is not easy, but still possible. Another issue is who will run for the presidency on behalf of the AKP: the current president, Abdullah Gül? Why not?
The second scenario will be on the AKP's agenda if its share of the vote remains above 45 percent on March 30. I predict in this case that Erdoğan will decide to run in the presidential election. However, this decision must be unavoidably complemented by reforming the electoral system, as explained above. If not, there is no guarantee that the AKP will win the referendum majority in the general elections. However, do not forget that in this case the AKP making its own constitution with a presidential system must also win the referendum. I think this is doable.
The critical issue in this scenario is the rule requiring one year for a change in the electoral system before its implementation. General elections must be held at the latest in June 2015. So, electoral reform must be done by this May at the latest. This is possible, but the option of early elections in autumn will be off the agenda. This will oblige Erdoğan to wait over one year before becoming head of the executive power. We assume, of course, that the new constitution forged by the AKP would be accepted in the referendum. Let's finish this article with another vital question: Who will be prime minister in the meantime?