How big will the protest vote be?
Why the ruling AK party may not do as well on June 7th as in the past
THE Justice and Development (AK) party has won three general elections in a row, most recently in 2011.
Yet although it seems certain to win over 40% of the vote and remain the largest party after the election on June 7th, it is losing ground.
Many things that helped AK are being reversed. The economy, its strongest suit, has run out of steam.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AK's charismatic former prime minister, who became Turkey's first directly elected president in August,
has become increasingly despotic and out of touch. And some opposition parties now look more appealing.
The main centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP) has changed tack. Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu,
has ditched his shrilly anti-Erdogan rhetoric of old and is hitting AK hard on the economy.
His pledges to double the minimum wage and to improve the lot of some 11m pensioners may sound populist, yet they have resonance.
Two-thirds of CHP candidates were elected in primaries. And Mr Kilicdaroglu has managed to bring in female candidates such as Selina Dogan,
an ethnic Armenian lawyer, and Selin Sayek Boke, a respected Arab Christian economist. Ultra-secular dinosaurs have gone.
Alas, the newly colourful CHP is still not expected to add much to the 26% it got in 2011.
But that is partly because some supporters are defecting to another opposition party, the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP).
The HDP is a challenge to Mr Erdogan because his dream of an executive presidency depends on its share of the vote.
Previously the Kurds fielded independent candidates to get around the minimum 10% threshold for seats in the parliament.
But the HDP is now running nationally. Should it get over 10% of the vote, it will pick up 50-60 seats,
leaving AK well short of the minimum 330 deputies required to propose constitutional changes, including an executive presidency.
Some pollsters think AK might even fall short of the 276 seats it needs for a simple majority.
It would then have to form a coalition with the third main opposition party, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP),
since both the CHP and the HDP say they will not go into government with AK. If, however, the HDP does not clear the 10% hurdle,
AK will inherit all its seats, clearing the way not just for a renewed single-party government but perhaps for Mr Erdogan's executive presidency.
The HDP owes its rising fortunes in part to its co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas. With his youthful looks and biting wit,
the former human-rights lawyer from Diyarbakir makes Mr Erdogan seem a has-been.
All over Turkey, bejewelled dowagers, hipsters and factory workers say they may vote HDP either because they “like Demirtas” or because “it's the only way to stop Erdogan.” This is a sea change.
The HDP was long seen as the political arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the rebels fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984.
Few doubt that the PKK and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, still hold much sway. But a ceasefire that has held since March 2013 has legitimised the HDP.
Winning more seats in parliament would propel the Kurds further into the mainstream and loosen the rebels' grip. Being shut out would have the opposite effect.
Although it was Mr Erdogan who initiated peace with the Kurds, he has hit the campaign trail,
Koran in hand, ranting about Mr Demirtas's supposed “terrorist connections” and lack of faith.
The HDP has to lure pro-AK Kurds into switching sides if it is to squeak past the threshold.
“Kurds in the big western cities like Istanbul and Izmir hold the key,” concludes Behlul Ozkan, a political scientist.
The HDP's victory is “by no means guaranteed”