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Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot. The government restricted the activities of some opposition political parties and leaders: police detained local party officials and supporters; parliament in May approved a constitutional amendment lifting the immunity from prosecution for a specific group of 148 parliamentarians, potentially enabling their prosecution for insult and other crimes; and the government replaced democratically elected officials with state trustees when local officials were accused of affiliation with terrorist groups. These tactics were most commonly directed against politicians affiliated with the HDP and its sister party, the DBP.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held two parliamentary elections in 2015. Candidates were generally able to campaign freely in advance of the June 2015 parliamentary election, although they experienced an uneven campaign playing field, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In its postelection report following the November 2015 parliamentary election, the OSCE expressed concern about restrictions on media reporting and a campaign environment that restricted candidates’ ability to campaign freely, among other problems.

The law requires a party to receive at least 10 percent of the valid votes cast nationwide to enter parliament, which many political parties and human rights groups criticized as excessively high. Four of the 20 parties that competed in the June 2015 general elections crossed this threshold, and all four were again represented following the November 2015 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: During campaigning for the June 2015 parliamentary election, observers accused President Erdogan of violating the constitutional requirement for the president to remain politically neutral. Opposition political parties applied to the Supreme Election Board to protest the president’s actions. The board rejected the petition, citing lack of jurisdiction. The HDP subsequently petitioned the Constitutional Court, which as of year’s end had not heard the case. Critics expressed similar concerns about President Erdogan’s criticism of opposition parties during the campaign prior to the November 2015 election.

On May 20, parliament adopted a constitutional amendment lifting the immunity of 148 members of parliament, paving the way for their potential prosecution and, if convicted, ouster from parliament. Leaders of all three opposition parties in parliament could face multiple criminal charges related to insult, support for terrorism, or other infractions. As of the end of November, authorities had imprisoned both of the HDP’s leaders and a number of HDP parliamentarians. All were among those whose parliamentary immunity had been lifted in May.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The number of women in politics and the judiciary remained small. The November 2015 election resulted in 81 women in a 550-member parliament, more than had been in parliament previously (79). Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s cabinet, which took office in May, included one female minister. The State Personnel Organization within the Ministry of Interior reported that as of July there were three female governors (Kirklareli, Yalova, and Sinop Provinces), 12 subgovernors, and 12 deputy governors. There were 37 women out of the 2,146 officials in the Ministry of Interior’s provincial governing structure. Observers noted that the Sinop governor, along with an unknown number of the other female bureaucrats, was removed from her position after the July 15 coup attempt, reducing the numbers of women serving in the State Personnel Organization. Observers also noted that the removal of elected mayors and other officials from the Southeast following the July coup attempt disproportionately affected women because the HDP, which held many elected positions in the Southeast, implemented a 50-percent rule, whereby approximately half of their elected representatives were women.

The November 2015 election also saw the inclusion of several religious and ethnic minorities in parliament. There were three Armenian deputies, one Romani, two Yezidi, and a Syriac Orthodox Christian.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future