11/18/2015 01:45 EST | Updated 11/18/2016 05:12 EST

Why Turkey's Recent Election Is So Important

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man putting ballot in a box during elections in turkey in front of flag

What You Already Know:

Everyone loves to visit Turkey because of its beautiful blending of European and Middle Eastern cultures -- yes, the Souks are gorgeous -- but what makes Turkey a pivotal country is that it can set the tone for foreign affairs in the whole region. They've also been in the headlines recently because they're in the eye of the storm of the refugee crisis. So, there's a lot going on.

What You Probably Don't Remember:

If you're like me and when you read the headline of this article you thought, The Turkey elections? Are they like electing all the turkeys for thanksgiving or... then you should probably keep reading. Here's the thing: Turkey just held an election and it was a pretty big deal. We're gonna catch you up on the important details.

First, how does Turkey's electoral system work?

Let's do some math (bear with us). Turkey's parliament, the grand national assembly, has 550 seats. The seats are awarded based on proportional representation: voters choose the party they like and that party gets seats based on how many local votes it gets. Okay, so far so good. There has to be a catch.

Oh yep. There's a 10 per cent threshold to enter parliament. So, that means if your party doesn't get at least 10 per cent of the total votes, you give up your seats and they are redistributed to the parties above the threshold, i.e. bigger parties have the advantage every time.

Other important numbers: a party needs 276 seats (>50 per cent) to have a majority and 367 seats (>66 per cent) to be able to change the constitution directly.

Who is Erdogan, what is the AKP, and other important things.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the very powerful president of Turkey. He was the prime minister of Turkey from 2002 until 2014, when he became president. Nobody's sure whether he's good or evil. In fact, his opponents in the media have recently faced not-so-fun things like threats and censorship. His opponents point to his luxurious presidential palace, the Ak Saray (the White Palace), as proof of Erdogan's would-be authoritarian tendencies. The Turkish Court ruled that the construction of the palace was literally against the law -- people are so not down with it that they've nicknamed it Kaçak Saray (the illegal palace).

Enough about Erdogan -- let's get to his surprisingly pro-Western Islamic party, the AKP (the Justice and Development Party). Their values include: conforming to Western liberty and democracy standards, advocating Turkish membership in the EU, increasing freedom of the press, establishing civilian control over the military, promoting women's rights, and supporting the free-market economy. Sounds pretty nice, right? Don't be too quick to judge, though, there's some juicy stuff coming.

The CHP, under Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu's leadership, is the second largest party. Also known as the Republican People's Party, the CHP is the oldest political party in Turkey. They support constitutional reform, but they're against the AKP's plans to create an executive presidency (i.e. Obama-level powers).

The PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers' Party, is a separatist militant group considered to be a terrorist organization. They've caused significant instability in Turkey in the past. Until a few months ago, things were relatively quiet between the Turkish government and the PKK.

Okay, so what the eff is going on?

Turkey held an election this past June and the AKP (remember, they've been in power since 2002) did not win a majority. Coalition talks were a bust, so a new election had to happen.

It looked like Turkish voters were making a statement against Erdogan and his party in this election. Erdogan had been pushing for increased presidential power as an election issue, and the public was having none of it. Instead, it seemed like the conservative Kurdish voters who might have otherwise voted for him, chose to vote for the Kurdish-focused Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP had never secured a place in parliament, and in June they surprised everyone by winning 80 seats.

Here's what's been happening since the June election:

  • The two-year ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK is broken and violence between the two groups arises once again
  • On October 10th, twin bombings in Ankara, the country's capital, kill almost 100 people during a peace rally to stop violence between Turkey and the PKK, marking the deadliest attack in the country's history -- no group has claimed responsibility, but fingers have been pointed in all different directions
  • The country is forced to hold another election in order to form a new government and the months of violence and instability in the country are inextricably tied (ISIL and the PKK are imminent threats and it seems like Turkey needs a strong government to get them out of this mess)
  • Conveniently enough, the AKP successfully cuts down support for all other opposition parties by promising stability amidst the violence against PKK rebels and wins a decisive majority on November 1st

Why You Should Care:

The AKP's I'm the strong man who can protect you message successfully swayed Turkish voters. Even the conservative Kurdish voters who had abandoned the AKP in June came running back.

Critics have accused Erdogan of instigating violence against the PKK and the Kurds in order to gain support for his party. What's more, some insist that he uses popular desires and prejudices to gain support and they blame him for the intense climate of tension and polarization in the country. He obvy denies this. It seems like nothing can be proven, but this whole thing does look pretty sketchy.

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Correction: A previous version of this blog stated Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the president of Turkey since 2002, but he was actually prime minister of Turkey from 2002 until 2014, when he became president.

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