Erdogan’s ballet-box ballet

Turkey’s politicians have until late August to form a coalition government. The ruling AKP lost its majority and must now trade with political partners with strongly divergent views. Failure would probably mean new elections, but for President Erdogan, that’s a risk that just might be worth while. Chief editor Gary Lakes explains.

CYNICAL political commentators in the Turkish media believe that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants negotiations for a coalition government to fail before the end of August deadline. Turkish voters would then have to return to the polls for what Erdogan has termed a “rerun” of parliamentary elections.

Hanging in there. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Hanging in there. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. [Graphic: Peter Schrank, The Economist]
His gamble is that he thinks his Justice and Development Party (AKP) would regain the ground it lost in the June 7 elections. The analysts say Erdogan is banking on Turks being so disillusioned with the divisions the elections have exposed that they would vote for the stability that went with the AKP’s former outright majority in parliament.

If the AKP were to regain a majority in the Grand National Assembly, then Erdogan’s party would avoid any messy coalition compromises and the president could steer Turkey back on his chosen course.

AKP won only 40.9 percent of the vote in June (down from 49 percent in 2011), giving it 258 seats in parliament – 18 short of a majority. Had the mainly Kurdish and liberal HDP party failed to reach the 10 percent threshold, the bulk of its 80 seats would probably have gone to AKP.

But their victory stymied Erdogan’s plan to change the constitution and establish an executive presidency with much greater powers than its figurehead role today. AKP needs the votes of 330 deputies to call a referendum on a new constitution, or 367 to change the constitution just by a parliamentary vote.
A snap election would require a substantial number of voters to shift their preference for AKP to regain a majority. For Erdogan to follow his “new constitution” obsession, the HDP would have to fall below the 10 percent threshold – and there’s no telling what the political ramifications of that would be.

"I'm listening. Maybe." Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“I’m listening. Maybe.” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. [Hurriyet]
Caretaker Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is also in coalition talks with the republican CHP, which won 132 seats, and the nationalist MHP with 80 seats. But even as the talks go on, the political parties and Turkish media are grumbling that Davutoglu’s interim government is acting as if the AKP is still in charge – making plans for military action in Syria, and giving jobs to favored companies and AKP supporters.

Hurriyet Daily News, citing Ozer Sencar, who heads MetroPOLL, has reported that a new election would bring little change from the June results. “The public stands very firmly behind the decision it delivered on June 7,” Sencar said. “It does not regret the votes it cast.”

Furthermore, Sencar told the newspaper, “the era of Erdoganism” had irremediably come to an end. “Whatever happens now, it won’t be as it was before June 7.”

Turks are widely believed to want a coalition government – 60 percent certainly seem keen for something new after 13 years of AKP rule, and the new parliament has deputies representing Turkey’s diverse population. Its Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Romas, Syriacs and Yazidis are all expected to play a greater role in the country’s future.

This does not mesh with Erdogan’s plans. For him, the main point of past and any future elections has always been a powerful presidency.

“Erdogan cannot force a snap election on his own,” Sinan Ulgen, chairman of Istanbul’s Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), told Global Sources Magazine. “Turkey is coming out of an electoral cycle and there is little willingness for another round of elections, even if Erdogan wants it. There is a continuing effort to actually find a structure, even though a coalition may not last for long.”

“A coalition government would certainly be the most favorable outcome for Turkey,” Ulgen said, and two years would be the longest a coalition might last.

The election results make it difficult to conceive a coalition not led by the AKP, in effect leaving Erdogan still setting the course of Turkish politics, in defiance of the parliamentary system’s limits on presidential power.

Davutoglu has made it clear to his possible partners that, as coalition leader, the AKP will not allow the president’s power to be questioned. But other party leaders also want to see the end of “Erdoganism” and insist that the president operate within the confines of the constitution.

Despite his party’s setback, it is unthinkable for Erdogan to take a back seat in Turkish politics after more than a dozen years in power and with his sights still set on an executive presidency. He can be expected to pursue his plan to concentrate more power within the presidential office he occupies.

Ozger Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund, told Global Sources Magazine the only way Erdogan can maximize his powers in the existing system is with an AKP majority government,

“We can expect Erdogan to take the country to early elections at the first opportunity, hoping for AKP to reclaim some of the votes it lost to MHP or HDP so it could form a majority government,” he said.

Associate professor Ahmet Kasim Han of Kadir Has University, Istanbul.

“We are headed for short parliament,” Ahmet Kasim Han, associate professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said in Nicosia during a presentation analyzing the election. He said that if the economy had been a key factor in the election the outcome could have been very different, and he predicted that next year Turkey’s economy would probably slow down.

Han said he does not buy the contention that the AKP maintains a core 38 percent of the Turkish electorate, but has only 11-12 percent of diehard supporters. The other 29-30 percent that vote for AKP are more traditional right-wingers but not dedicated to the party.
When the AKP starts to lose support, it will not be by 1-2 percent. “It will be in droves,” Han said. For now, he sees a coalition of AKP and CHP as the best solution for stability, albeit a risky course for CHP.

“What happens over the course of the next 45 days or less will determine what Turkey’s democratic future will look like,” he said.

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