This article was published in Ahval News on May 24, 2018.
Vertical MP nomination system hub of problems with Turkish political culture
Political activity intensified in Turkey ahead of the June 24 elections and many prominent politicians complained they were not nominated as a candidate. The author of this article has first-hand experience why highly qualified candidates sometimes remain off the list.
To better figure out the intricacies of the selection of the candidates, I will share in this article my experience as a member of the selection committee of candidates in the first parliamentary election that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) fought in 2002.
We were members of a six-man committee in charge of interviewing the candidates and drawing up a list to be submitted to party’s chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Many people used to apply to be a candidate, by paying an important fee to the party, without expecting to be elected. If a miracle happened and they were elected, so much the better, but even if they were not elected they could print a business card mentioning that they had become a candidate, which they could use to get a favour if the party came to power. There is even a less ambitious category; those who do not expect even to be included in the list of candidates, but who also then print a business card mentioning that they were a candidate for candidacy.
Our team was responsible for six constituencies in eastern Turkey and one of them had three different communities: Kurds, Shia Azeris and Sunni Azeris. We had the detailed CVs of every candidate as well as the results of the public opinion polls carried out by the party to find out which one of the candidates was popular in that particular district.
In the highest populated district of that constituency the most eligible candidate turned out to be a Kurd and we put his name at the top of the list. In the second highest populated district, the most eligible candidate again turned out to be a Kurd. Therefore, since there was already a Kurd in the list, we did not consider the best candidate of that district and looked for a non-Kurd best candidate. He was a Shia Azeri and we put his name as number two in the list.
When the Kurdish candidate learned that we had passed him over because another Kurd in the other district of the constituency was at the top of the list, he protested feverishly. In the third biggest district of the same constituency, the best candidate turned out to be a Shia Azeri and the second best a Kurd. Therefore, we did not take the two most popular candidates of the district and looked for a Sunni Azeri to put as number three, because there were already a Kurd and a Shia Azeri on the list. As expected, the Shia Azeri and Kurd protested feverishly when they learned the result.
While we were busy with sorting out our balanced lists, we received an instruction from Erdoğan, saying:
“It appears that we are going to win the elections and will have sufficient seats in the parliament to form a government. We will need MPs who can serve as minister of finance, minister of technology, chairman of the parliamentary commission for constitutional affairs, chairman of the Turkish delegation to the Council of Europe etc. Therefore, you should take into account this aspect of the question as well”.
This instruction changed all our calculations about who to put on the candidate lists.
Once past the committee, the lists go then a central body in the party, which re-adjusts them by trying to make it more balanced on the national scale. The members of this central body usually turn off their telephones to avoid anyone trying to pressure them. Candidates do everything they can to secure changes in their favour at this stage. And finally it goes to the chairman of the party who gives the lists the final touch.
The members of the selection committees and the chairman of the party are human beings who may make mistakes at their own risk.
The candidates who remain off the list have to admit that, as Blaise Pascal used to say for the heart, politics has also reasons that reason ignores.