Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lost its parliamentary majority in a general election that also saw the the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) secure seats for the first time.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hoped that the AKP would receive enough of the vote to change the constitution into a presidential system, transferring executive powers to his position after dominating Turkish politics for more than a decade as a three-term AKP prime minister.
But nearly complete results suggest that Erdogan's plan will be blocked by the HDP, which appears to have crossed the 10 percent vote threshold required to enter parliament.
Demirtas and HDP co-head Figen Yuksekdag speaking to supporters after the party gained its first parliamentary seats. (Photo by John Beck)
According to preliminary results published by the state-run Anadolu Agency, with 95 percent of the votes counted, the AKP is projected to win 259 seats in parliament, well shy of the 276 needed to form a government alone and far from the super majority (330 out of the 550 seats in parliament) required for constitutional change.
The AKP will likely now seek an unwelcome alliance with either of the second and third largest parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It's the biggest challenge to the ruling party's 13 years in power.
The race has been close and tense. On Friday, twin bomb blasts at an HDP rally in southern Diyarbakir killed four people and injured 200 others.
After news of the results spread, joyful HDP supporters took to the streets across the country.
HDP supporters celebrate outside the party's Istanbul headquarters. (Photo by John Beck)
The AKP were sure to garner a larger share of the vote than any of their rivals, and many of its supporters remained adamant that Erdogan is still the best man to lead Turkey. "It's what we need now… we need a strong leader," Firat, a 30-year old shopkeeper in Istanbul's Tophane neighborhood, told VICE news. "This government has been in power for 12 years, it saw Turkey developed as a success," he said, referring to recent economic growth.
But in recent years, Erdogan has also continued to tighten control of the police, judiciary, and media. Journalists have been prosecuted for critical coverage, and even for insulting him on social media. Critics fear that an increase in power could further encourage these authoritarian tendencies.
Huseyin, 45, an HDP supporter, said he hoped that the pro-Kurdish party would pass the threshold and block Erdogan's plans. "It won't be good for the country [if Erdogan is succesful], he wants the Ottoman Empire to continue," he told VICE News outside a polling station in Okmeydani, Istanbul. "The disappearance of democracy, that's what the presidency means."
Gulseren, 62, who had just voted for the CHP, agreed, telling VICE News that stopping the president's plan was "very important for our future, and for our children's' future."
HDP supporters celebrate in Istanbul. (Photo by John Beck)
In order to cross the vital 10 percent threshold, the HDP needed to tempt voters who once backed other parties. The social-democratic MHP were most likely to lose out. The party's Beyogolu district head Murat Dogan told VICE News that he hoped to best the AKP in the polls, and said he "didn't care" about the HDP crossing the threshold.
Kurds have long faced discrimination and persecution in Turkey, and some in the CHP remain suspicious of them. Yasin, 22, said that he thought of the HDP as a "terrorist party," referring to supposed links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which waged a 30-year insurgency against the Turkish government. "I don't want any favors from them at all," he told VICE News. "I don't trust them."
'We believe that young people's place is in politics, this is the brightness.'
But others have switched sides. At the Okmeydani polling station, Sisan Georgu, 58, said she expected the elections to move Turkey "from darkness into light," adding that the comparatively youthful HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas was the man to do it. "We believe that young people's place is in politics, this is the brightness," she said.
Her 23-year-old son Mehmet added that he know of many others who had shifted their votes from CHP to HDP, especially those closer to his age. "Everyone thinks he [Demirtas] is sincere, even though some don't like the Kurdish," he said. Others said they had convinced their parents to back the HDP also.
Speaking to supporters and members of the press after HDP's parliamentary presence had been confirmed, a triumphant Demirtas said that the result was a vote against Erdogan's presidential ambitions. "HDP's sun is enough, we don't need the bulb," he said referring to the AKP's logo. He went on to describe it as a victory for all of Turkey's oppressed groups and reassured those who had switched allegiance from other parties that they would not be disappointed.
Erdogan, who as head of state is supposed to remain nonpartisan, campaigned relentlessly for the AKP in a move that Kemal Kirisci, director of the Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project at The Brookings Institution, told VICE News was a "pretty much blatant violation of the constitution."
Demirtas said while placing his vote Sunday that the electoral race had not been a "fair and equal one", remarks that were echoed by CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Turkey's electoral history has been seen as broadly legitimate, but last year's polls were marred by allegations of irregularities and vote rigging. The Supreme Electoral Board (YSK), which oversees Turkish elections, ordered only two reruns despite 1,400 allegations of irregularities, mostly from opposition parties, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. This time around, the YSK has also rejected complaints made by opposition groups against Erdogan's open backing of the AKP.
As a result, trust in the electoral system is declining. Forty-three percent of eligible voters think Sunday's polls will not be fair, according to a study published last month by professors Ali Carkoglu and S. Erdem Aytac of Koc University. In response, volunteers have rushed to join civil society monitoring groups, such as Oy ve Otesi ("Vote and Beyond"), which deployed a team of more than 60,000 volunteers on Sunday. Social media platforms were inundated with allegations of irregularities throughout the day.
Ali Deniz Esen, 20, a political science student who was acting as observer at a polling station in Besiktas, said that given the potential significance of the results, there were particular worries about electoral malpractice. "It's a more delicate election so we're more worried about fraud," he told VICE News.
Serap, 41, told VICE News, that she expected all parties to at least attempt to rig the system. "I don't believe in the accuracy of the results," she said. "I think that last year things were questionable and this year they may be also. Whoever does "the trick" best will do it [win]."
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