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Article Turkey: Parliament Passes Law Amending Election Laws and Lowering Electoral Threshold

On April 6, 2022, Law No. 7393, which amends certain election laws, was published in Turkey’s Official Gazette. Law No. 7393 amends several provisions of Law No. 2839 on the Election of Members of Parliament, Law No. 2820 on Political Parties, and Law No. 298 on the General Principles of Elections and Electoral Rolls. These changes in electoral laws have been passed by the parliament a little more than a year before the scheduled general elections of June 18, 2023. Significantly, because article 67/7 of the Constitution of Turkey stipulates that amendments to election laws are not applicable to elections held within one year from the entry into force of the amendments, the newly passed amendments will affect the upcoming general elections.

 The Electoral Threshold

Arguably, the most fundamental change brought about by Law No. 7393 is the lowering of the electoral threshold from 10% of the national vote to 7%. The electoral threshold represents the minimum portion of the total votes cast in a general election that a political party must get to be eligible for seats in the national legislature. The threshold does not apply to independent candidates. The 10% threshold was the highest statutory threshold among Council of Europe member states (and will remain so even at 7%).

Nevertheless, the practical significance of the electoral threshold was drastically reduced by the “electoral alliance” system that was introduced with the 2017 popular referendum. Under the alliance system, political parties that enter general elections as part of an electoral alliance with other parties are allowed seats in the parliament if the total votes of the alliance surpasses the threshold, effectively eliminating the threshold for political parties that could enter an alliance with a major party that is certain to pass the threshold. However, the threshold remains a barrier for parties that enter the elections not as part of a major electoral alliance.

The electoral alliance system was first used in the 2018 general elections, in which two electoral alliances participated: the “People’s”Alliance, which included the governing party (AKP), and the “Nation Alliance,” which included the main opposition party (CHP). Three parties out of the eight that participated in the election were not members of an alliance, and only one of the three (HDP) managed to surpass the 10% threshold to win seats in the parliament. Both alliances surpassed the threshold, and their constituent parties won seats, although individually they did not surpass 10% of the vote.

Changes in the Seat Allocation Method

Law No. 7393 amends the application of the d’Hondt seat allocation method to the electoral alliance system. A European Union briefing defines the d’Hondt method as a mathematical formula widely used in proportional representation systems that “[leads] to less proportional results than other systems for seat allocation . . . [but] tends to increase the advantage for the electoral lists which gain most votes to the detriment of those with fewer votes. It is, however, effective in facilitating majority formation and thus in securing parliamentary operability.”

In the 2018 election, a two-stage allocation system was used: First, seats in an electoral district were allocated, using the d’Hondt method, between (1) alliances that surpassed the threshold, (2) parties that entered the election without an alliance and had surpassed the threshold, and (3) independent candidates. Then, a second allocation was made among the members of the alliances to distribute the seats allocated to an alliance in the first stage (again, using the d’Hondt method). The amendment under Law No. 7393 replaces the two-stage allocation with a single-stage allocation, whereby the seats are distributed in a single d’Hondt allocation among all parties and independent candidates regardless of their alliance membership (however, the threshold rules remain the same).

Other Changes

With its amendments to Law No. 298, Law No. 7393 changes the rules concerning the establishment of the provincial and district-level electoral boards that supervise the administration of voting. The amendments institute a lottery system for selecting senior-level judges, who will constitute an electoral board, to replace the previous system of automatically appointing the three most-senior judges in the locality. Significantly, a provisional article that is added to Law No. 298 with the new amendments requires the currently sitting provincial and district level electoral boards to be reconstituted within three months in accordance with the new rules.

Law No. 7393 also adds a provision to Law No. 298 guaranteeing that eligible voters whose addresses in the centralized address registry system are found to be out-of-date during the annual automatic update of the election rolls cannot on this basis be deprived of their right to vote. Instead, such persons will be registered automatically in the rolls of the electoral district comprising their last known address in the system.

Critical Reactions

Opposition parties and other critics have reacted negatively to some of the amendments. For instance, Feridun Bahsi, a member of both the parliamentary opposition party IYIP and the constitutional law committee in which the amending law was debated, argued that the rules instituting the lottery system for empaneling the electoral boards created an election security risk and made it more vulnerable to political pressures because it appears that the new system allows judges not to participate in the lottery. Constitutional law scholar Tolga Sirin, in his column in the online news journal T24, argued that the amendments generally tend to disadvantage the opposition alliance, and that lowering the threshold appears to be a move to guarantee that the MHP—the minor party in the governing alliance—will gain seats should the alliance fracture before the elections. In the article, Sirin also reiterated his position that the electoral threshold was unconstitutional in toto.

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Cantekin, Kayahan. Turkey: Parliament Passes Law Amending Election Laws and Lowering Electoral Threshold. 2022. Web Page.

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