Foreigners call it ‘trial balloon’. Although the method is used by companies and institutions in diverse fields, it is often put to use by politicians. If a substantial change in a particular matter is planned by policy makers, a proposal related to the envisaged change is put forward through the media and got it discussed in public in order to take the pulse of society. If reactions are considered favorable, the plan for change is put in practice.
The recent proposal by Faruk Çelik, a leading figure in AK Parti proposal is the latest example of practice of ‘trial balloon’ in our country. Çelik proposed that the ‘50+1 percent rule’, the presidential election threshold stipulated by the ‘Presidential Government System’ is to be cut to 40 percent in the next presidential election.
It isn’t difficult to see that his proposal has been put forward to be discussed as a practice of ‘trial balloon’.
Change of attitude on the same day
An unexpected development took place, though.
President Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday when asked by reporters about the plan for lowering the election threshold after his speech in the Turkish Parliament on the occasion of the new legislative year:
“Our people approved our stand on the matter only a year ago. Let us not wear citizens out. This requires a constitutional change. Therefore, the Parliament is where such discussions should be held. We are conducting our preliminary preparations, and may bring the matter to the Parliament. Our government and the opposition may work together in cooperation on the matter.”
What do you understand from these statements?
As far as I am concerned, President Erdoğan stands by Faruk Çelik’s proposal, and reveals his party’s ‘preliminary preparations’ concerning the matter. He backs the proposal, and states that he expects the opposition’s support for a change to the existing election threshold which requires constitutional changes.
However, only a few hours later, President Erdoğan exhibited a strikingly different attitude when he was asked the same question during the reception in the Parliament.
Let us read what he said:
“The existing presidential election threshold had been brought to the Parliament by us. Again, it was us who took the matter to the approval of the people. Our people endorsed our proposal with an overwhelming support. Now, bringing the matter to the agenda of the people again through a revision would not go with appropriate conduct of the politician. If the matter is to be brought to the people again, this is not our job, but the opposition’s job. (. . .) Who has come up with a new proposal? Such proposals may be discussed in the media, but the Parliament is the only proper place to deal with this sort of matters. Who are supposed to be interested in these matters in the Parliament? The opposition, of course. The opposition may bring a proposal about this matter to the Parliament and it may be discussed there. I am convinced that it is not right to get people keep discussing this again and again. Because our people expect from politicians a serious conduct. We should maintain our serious attitude. There is still plenty of time to the next presidential election in 2023.”
Clearly, there is a confusing contrast here.
It seems that the government assumed the opposition would have given support to Faruk Çelik’s proposal in no time. However, contrary to what was expected, no sign of support came from the opposition during the day. Besides, it was seen that people tended to consider the proposal as a consequence of AK Parti’s declining vote rate. Under these circumstances, AK Parti now resorts to a fine tactical maneuver by putting pressure on the opposition to engage in the discussion on the matter…
At least, this is probably what is intended to achieve.
There is a challenging problem here, though.
There is no reason for the opposition to support the proposal that suggests “lowering the election threshold to 40 percent”. AK Parti’s vote tends to decline, so does that of its political alliance, so-called ‘Cumhur İttifakı’. The governing party would be finding it increasingly difficult to have its candidate elected in the next presidential election by reaching ‘50+1 percent threshold’ even if its alliance with MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party) remains intact until the election date. On the other hand, the electoral collaboration of the two opposition parties under the name of ‘Millet İttifakı’ (People’s Alliance) as an inevitable step dictated by the new presidential electoral system proved to be effective in the mayoral elections a while ago, and the opposition won the re-run election in Istanbul by far majority votes.
What also needs to be taken into account here is that there are new political initiatives which are expected to give birth to new parties soon. These new parties would naturally position themselves in the opposition.
Why should the opposition support the proposal of ‘40% threshold’ under these circumstances?
Understandably, the initial comments from the opposition members point out that they are not positive about the proposal. CHP (the Republican People’s Party), the main opposition party, rightly says: “Let us discuss the new presidential government system, but not the ‘50+1 threshold’” The opposition parties have already initiated attempts to bring negative aspects of the new government system from day one to this day into question in public.
The gap between 58 percent and 40 percent
The ‘trial balloon’ is flying up on the sky in a direction that the government would never wish to see.
I feel that the striking contrast between President Erdoğan’s statements on the topic after his speech in the opening ceremony in the Parliament and those that he uttered some hours later during the reception in the Parliament has something to do with the realization of towards what direction is the balloon flying.
I tend to consider the referendum on 12 September 2019 as the end point of the most productive initial period of AK Parti governments. In that referendum, the people endorsed AK Parti’s proposal for a constitutional change to the government system by 58 percent majority votes. In the election that was held in 2015 (November 1), AK Parti attracted half of the voters. In the latest presidential elections too, AK Parti managed to get its candidate elected as the president receiving 52% of the votes, although this was achieved thanks to the alliance with MHP.
Now, however, the party is seeking ways to lower the election threshold to 40 percent.
This declining trend of support is what AK Parti and its supporters should concern themselves about, -don’t you think so, too?
Having ended up in appearing as a political party that hopes for help from balloons is rather alarming.
[Translated by Bernar Kutluğ from the the article appeared in this site’s Turkish section on October 2, 2019]