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Turkish politics braces for the week of March 18-24

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Cevheri Güven

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), will hold party conventions on March 24 and 18, respectively. The events are increasing anticipation for changes in the high-level administration of both parties as well as in the cabinet. The two parties have agreed on adjusting the electoral threshold to their advantage.

The decisions to be made during the convention of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP will particularly have a bearing on the presidential cabinet, where some figures from party headquarters are expected to take seats. According to political commentator Deniz Zeyrek, Erdoğan asked MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli for names, but his request was turned down. While the ultranationalist ally has been lending the AKP its firm support, it has avoided executive responsibility by refusing to take part in the cabinet.

Among the plans on Erdoğan’s list is increasing the number of ministers in the cabinet by re-dividing the recently unified ministries of family and labor, culture and tourism and environment and urban planning.

Renewed praise for ‘missing’ son-in-law

Another name that came up is Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law who on Nov. 8 had surprisingly stepped down as minister of treasury and finance. While Albayrak has always been among the opposition’s talking points, Erdoğan had avoided mentioning him until the last two weeks. Completely unseen and unheard from since his resignation, Albayrak’s abrupt disappearance prompted speculation as well as campaigns by the opposition and Turkish Twitter users under the headline “Where is the son-in-law?”

Over the past two weeks, Erdoğan has broken his silence and began praising Albayrak’s ministerial performance during his speeches to ruling party members. With an increasingly strident tone, Erdoğan has also defended his son-in-law against the attacks of the opposition. This new discourse led to an anticipation that Albayrak will once again take a high-level position, possibly within the AKP administration or the presidential office.

Plans to alter the electoral system

While MHP leader Bahçeli is unwilling for his party members to take cabinet positions, he has constantly been lobbying the government to reduce the 10 percent legislative election threshold that is required for political parties to get into parliament. The MHP wants to bring the threshold down to 7 percent. Such an alteration would allow the MHP, which is polling at around 9 percent, to win seats in parliament without necessarily forming a combined front with AKP. The nationalist party wants to have this alternative in hand, although it does not necessarily mean that it wants out of its alliance with the ruling party.

In line with the MHP’s request, Erdoğan has had his party draft a bill to modify the laws on political parties and elections. Polls suggest that the AKP risks losing its position under the current electoral system. The new bill could serve to overcome this disadvantage.

According to the bill, which has been leaked to the media, the AKP plans to reduce the threshold to 7 percent and redesign constituencies in a way to increase the number of its deputies.

A report by Nuray Babacan from the Hürriyet newspaper claimed that the plan includes limiting the maximum number of deputies from a single constituency to seven. According to the report, a simulation carried out at AKP headquarters found that the planned system would be highly beneficial to bigger parties, bringing 12 deputies to the AKP and seven to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), while smaller ones such as the MHP, the Good (İyi) Party and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) would bleed deputies.

The bill also contains provisions on public funding of political parties. Under the current system, parties with a vote of 3 percent and above can benefit from the grants. The bill brings it up to 7 percent.

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