As the Freedom Research Association, we are looking for solutions by examining the institutional/structural erosion experienced in Turkey in recent years, which has led to a regression in the worldwide rule of law and governance indices. For this purpose, we initiated the “Structural Reforms in Turkey Project” with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy. In this project, the ten main institutions/structures that need to be reformed urgently are Post-Legislative Control System, Political Party Law, Election Law, Constitution Making Process, Executive (Government System), Judiciary, Public Procurement Regime, Public Personnel Regime, and Media Independence. It is aimed to define and concretize the existing problems in the fields and to share possible reform proposals. In this context, the report titled “Election Systems in Turkey: Problems and Reform Proposals”, written by Tanju Tosun focuses on what kind of criteria should be taken as reference in the design of an electoral system while examining the problems based on the electoral system in Turkey; and in this context, it offers a series of reform proposals. In the report, a general evaluation is made of the electoral systems, and then academic assessments are given in the context of the effects of the electoral systems on the party systems. The problems related to the electoral system and the suggestions within this scope are examined under the titles of the Manageability-Stability Paradox, Accountability Related Problems, the Issue of Inclusiveness, and Transparency Related Problems.
Electoral systems, broadly speaking, refer to a set of rules on the type of representation in parliaments, the type of parliamentary/government system, the size of the parliament, the frequency of elections, how the voting process works in elections, and/or referenda, how the nomination and propaganda processes of parties work, how the results from the ballot boxes are calculated, how the number of chairs in representation institutions (conversion of votes to seats) between parties is shared. In a narrow sense, it is the vote-counting method and rules used to determine the outcome of the elections.
The electoral system is among those responsible for the problems of the existing political system in Turkey. Ever since the beginning of the multi-party political life in Turkey, discussions about and searching for the electoral system have persisted. The main reason for this is the dissatisfaction with the numerical distribution of the parliament due to the electoral system. The main point of criticism is the lack of consensus-based arrangements between the parties regarding the electoral system, the parties desire for the majority that the electoral system will produce to be in their favor, and the fact that few parties care about pluralism, rather than the parliamentary arithmetic. Election systems create problems in various dimensions of political life in the process that runs after almost every election.
The 10% country threshold effect reveals the quantitative dimension of the problem of justice representation in Turkey. Another essential criterion regarding representative justice is the level of party votes that cannot be represented in the parliament despite participating in the elections. In the same context, another important indicator is how many votes the parties have made for each representative. Another issue that draws attention within the framework of the injustice of representation problem in our electoral system is geographical representation. This situation is revealed in the method followed when determining the number of deputies issued by the provinces. In particular, the over-representation of the less populated provinces in terms of the number of deputies according to the population leads to an injustice of representation in quantitative terms.
Political stability is the existence of the institutions of a political system without a sudden change, and political instability is the sudden change that occurs in these institutions. Looking at past elections and their results, preferences bring pluralism closer to majoritarianism in electoral systems to establish stability in the administration, and arrangements were made to prevent possible fragmentation in the party system with high thresholds to facilitate the establishment of governments in this regard. However, these applications yielded different results.
In an electoral system with accountability, representatives must respond accurately and effectively to those who elect them. The main accountability-based problems in the electoral system are big constituencies with closed-list methods. In the closed list method, the deputies are elected according to the order in the candidate lists of the parties, and the voters cannot change this list. In this method, although it is theoretically more accessible for women to be included in the candidate lists of the representatives of disadvantaged groups, the competition and accountability among the candidates are not intense. Since the leader and senior management prepare the candidate lists, the elected representatives have little tendency to act autonomously against them in the legislative process, and dependence and obedience to the leader are necessary to be nominated for the next term. The closed-list method ultimately leads to a disconnection between the voter and the deputy, the voters’ demands are not reflected in the parliament through democratic means, and the ties between the voters and the parties remain weak. Because the unaccountable systems and procedures are naturally not adopted by their beneficiaries. Another factor that causes accountability problems in electoral systems is that the electoral circles are large, and the voters are not given the right to choose among the representatives. As the constituency grows, it becomes more challenging to establish a bond, identity, and accountability between the voter and the representative.
Inclusiveness is not just about inclusive voting rights, that is, allowing many citizens to vote by electoral laws, including making the system easy to understand and giving everyone access to the polling station. It also includes non-discrimination against social groups. The inclusiveness problem of the electoral system in Turkey is related to the fact that women, youth, and disabled groups are not sufficiently represented in politics, although they constitute a significant part of the population.
In this context, the suggestions regarding the electoral system and its design, which is one of the most prominent tools for the administration of a country, are as follows:
1. Recommendations for Representational Strengthening and Representational Justice:
♦ Lowering the national threshold to the recommended rate of 3% to increase proportionality,
♦ Determination of electoral districts by taking the population of the provinces into account
♦ Switching to the zipper system for fair representation of women in all elected assemblies
♦ 30% quota for young people aged 18-30
♦ Implementation of quotas for people with disabilities
♦ Ensuring effective representation of all disadvantaged groups
♦ Removal of de facto barriers to the representation of parties that are representative of the original problem dimensions
♦ Sanctions against parties that do not comply with the quotas
♦ Not narrowing the electoral districts
2. Recommendations for Increasing the Accessibility of Elections:
♦ Increasing the awareness of the public regarding the changes in the election laws and election procedures
♦ Ensuring maximum geographical proximity in the determination of election and polling districts
♦ Combining/separating boxes according to objective criteria
♦ Arrangement of voter registration in a way that allows effective surveillance by political party representatives
♦ Establishment of boards, rules, and sanctions to ensure that the media broadcast is objective during the election campaign period and TRT’s announcement of the election results
3. Suggestions to Promote Reconciliation Between Parties and Strengthen Voter-MPs Link within the Party:
♦ Implementation of the Open List method in selections
♦ Encouraging alliances
♦ Not introducing an intra-alliance threshold
4. Recommendations to Facilitate the Establishment of Stable and Effective Governments:
♦ Making arrangements for legislative efficiency in the government system to establish stable and effective governments (Constructive Vote of Confidence, Constructive Vote of No Confidence)
5. Recommendations to Hold Governments Accountable:
♦ Although it is not directly related to the design of the electoral system in the narrow sense, the verbal question and the motion of no-confidence should return
♦ Parliamentary investigation, making the parliamentary investigation functional and in case of transition to the parliamentary system, as a new audit method proposed by the CHP, the submission of a report by the Council of Ministers to the Grand National Assembly on fundamental rights and freedoms upon request.
6. Suggestions for Holding Elected Representatives to Account:
♦ Discussing the applicability of the recall procedure
7. Suggestions for Encouraging Political Parties:
♦ Apart from the Treasury aid they receive according to the country’s vote performance, the aid to be given to the parties, which is related to the Law on Political Parties and is included in the election law, is to provide a certain amount of Treasury support to the parties that receive more than half of the total valid votes in the electoral circles and come first in these elections, in case they cannot benefit from the aid throughout the country
8. Recommendations to Activate Legislative Opposition and Ensure Effective Oversight of the Executive
♦ Lowering the electoral threshold to 3% for a strong opposition in the parliament
♦ Although it is not related to the electoral law, since it is within the scope of the electoral system in a broad sense, it is necessary to make a regulation in the parliamentary bylaws that will allow the opposition to have a greater say in the parliament.
9. Suggestions for Increasing the Functionality of the Election Process and Making it Sustainable:
♦ Making arrangements to ensure that the parties that do not have a representative in the parliament but have completed their organization throughout the country participate as observers so that representatives from all parties represented in the parliament will participate in the commissions that will make the changes in the electoral system and they will have equal voting rights
♦ Making changes to the electoral system by a qualified majority
10. Recommendations for Considering International Standards ♦ Throughout the entire process, from the pre-election to the completion of the election, international legislation regarding elections should be followed. In this regard, the election law should include additional concrete regulations. For example, a commission should be set up by parliament to oversee all stages of the electoral process. It can be suggested that representatives of all political parties participating in the elections, representatives of think tanks, media representatives, lawyers, and academics working in this field be present as observers in this commission.