On March 3rd, the Turkish parliament approved a bill establishing June 12th as the date of the general election. The independent Higher Electoral Council (YSK), whose function is to ensure the fair and orderly conduct of the elections, announced that 27 political parties will run. However, only three or four are expected to enter parliament owing to the high 10% threshold for political party representation. The YSK also set March 10th as the final date for public employees intending to run for office to resign from their current positions (required by Turkish law). Numerous bureaucrats, such as the former Istanbul governor Muammer Guler, and a trade union leader, Suleyman Celebi, have tendered their resignations in order to stand as candidates for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is expected to win a third term. The YSK has given the parties until April 11th to submit their candidate lists. The main focus of AKP's campaign is its promise to introduce a new constitution, one which the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared on February 20th could be "understood by all citizens". As the incumbent with a record of good economic management and some progress on democratic reforms, the AKP has a substantial advantage over its main rival, the Republican People's Party (CHP).
Under Kemal Kilicdaroglu's leadership since May 2010, the CHP has been seeking to change its political stance on a range of political and social issues to appeal to a broader range of voters. On February 28th 2011, Mr Kilicdaroglu acknowledged that in the past the party had lost touch with voters. The CHP has also successfully focused attention on the AKP's hold on institutions, especially the judiciary, arguing that Mr Erdogan has been using the judiciary to eliminate his opponents in the media, judiciary and military (see In focus). But the CHP is also struggling to contain internal divisions, which may erupt over the choice of candidates for the election. Mr Kilicdaroglu will be keen to have elected to parliament those who supported his unexpected rise to leader when his predecessor, Deniz Baykal, resigned over a sex tape scandal. He may find it hard to resist the demands of an influential section of the party to put forward as candidates several individuals who have been detained in connection with the alleged plots to overthrow the AKP government in the early 2000s.
On the Kurdish issue, arguably Turkey's most intractable social and political conflict, the party has sought to revise its hardline nationalist position. In a visit to the south-eastern province, Van, Mr Kilicdaroglu acknowledged that the CHP owed an apology to Turkey's Kurdish population and declared his party's support for a general amnesty for Kurdish militants and the lifting of restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, including the offering of Kurdish as a free elective course in state middle schools. The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the CHP to increase its share of the total vote to 25-30%, up from about 20% in the 2007 election, but this is still well behind the AKP, which is expected to obtain 45-50%.