by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 5, Ramadan, 1436)
The AKP has suffered a serious setback in last month’s elections and its hold on power is no longer assured.
Last month Turkish voters delivered a punishing slap on the AKP’s face. Its 13-year grip on power has been badly shaken. The government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu with strong support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received only 40% of the votes cast in the June 7 elections. The AKP gained only 258 seats in the National Assembly, 18 short of forming a majority in parliament. It means the AKP cannot form a government without the support of another party(ies).
Securing 40% of the vote in an election may be considered a landslide in the West where voter apathy is strong (Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Canada, for instance, has a mere 36.8 of the popular vote but enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament) but in Turkey’s complex political landscape, this is considered a disaster. In the outgoing parliament, the AKP had nearly 50%of the popular vote and a comfortable majority of 327 seats in the National Assembly. The drastic fall in its popular vote as well as loss of the parliamentary majority has not helped the AKP. It can no longer maintain its long-standing domination of Turkish politics.
The election result could still be considered a victory of sorts for the AKP; it won the largest number of seats in parliament. Any party in power for 13 years would inevitably lose some support but it was Erdogan’s attitude that made the result appear like such a crushing defeat. Emboldened by last year’s presidential elections in which he received 52% of the vote, Erdogan campaigned hard to increase this to 60% so that he could change the constitution to ensure his one-man rule over the country. However, as we noted last month (Crescent, June 2015), the Turkish public was unhappy with a number of issues and decided to punish the AKP by deflating Erdogan’s ego and depriving the party of a majority. President Erdogan did not care about the constitution: he is supposed to remain neutral and serve as president for all people, not the party he belongs to. Such legal niceties, however, were no bar to his oversized ego and raw ambitions that many saw as bordering on the megalomaniacal.
The AKP can at best hope to form a coalition government either with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has already ruled out entering into a coalition with the AKP. Failing to form a coalition would result in re-election.
The coalition option is agonizing for the AKP. Thanks to Erdogan’s polarising discourse for more than a decade and his tainted reputation due to corruption allegations, other parties are reluctant to enter into coalition with the AKP, at least not without receiving major incentives. So far they have put forward a number of conditions in order to form a coalition. Some of these include vigorous and transparent pursuit of corruption cases against the AKP members in accordance with the constitution. They have also demanded that Erdogan cease interference in the affairs of government and end his micromanagement of policy. Their other demands include his vacating the lavish 1,100-room palace and that his sons be brought to justice on corruption allegations.
It is highly unlikely that the AKP would give in to any of these demands. Erdogan is the principal pillar of the party and under the present conditions no one within the party would go against his will. Erdogan certainly would not ruin his political future for the sake of a coalition. Having said that, Erdogan does not have many options; if he opts for re-election then it is not certain that the AKP would receive the same number of votes. It is even possible that since the tide has turned against the AKP, its percentage of vote may further decline thereby opening the way for two opposition parties to form a coalition government (currently without the AKP three opposition parties need to come together to form a government). This is the disastrous scenario staring at the AKP and Erdogan. If the opposition parties form a coalition without the AKP, they may reopen corruption cases against the former ruling party. This would permanently seal Erdogan’s and his party’s political future.
Faced with this dilemma, the AKP’s best bet would be to convince the opposition parties to drop their demands pertaining to Erdogan by giving them more incentives and form a coalition. In the next two months this will be the AKP strategy and if it fails there will be re-elections. At this point Erdogan might decide to hand over the party to someone else — if he is too worried about the outcome. This person might be former President Abdullah Gul whom Erdogan so unceremoniously sidelined last year. It is, however, too early to speculate about re-election at present.
Aside from the coalition issue and corruption allegations, the other most important issue in the negotiations is Turkey’s interference in Syria. Both before and during the election campaign, the three opposition parties (CHP, MHP, and HDP) made it clear that they oppose Turkey’s support for the rebels. Further, they blamed the AKP for supporting Daesh, the takfiri terrorists (aka ISIS), and al-Nusra Front. It would, therefore, be very difficult for them to accept the current AKP position on Syria and any possible coalition scenario will see a significant change in Turkey’s position.
What makes such a shift more likely is the sudden rise of the Kurdish party, the HDP. The HDP vote exceeded the 10% threshold in the elections and they have entered the assembly for the first time in its history. According to KONDA research, the most reputable survey agency in Turkey, the AKP lost 1.8 million votes to HDP, which amounts to 3.7% of the valid votes. Aside from HDP’s stunning performance, the loss of votes was also result of AKP’s support for the Syrian rebels, especially its opportunistic policy during the ISIS siege of the Kurdish town Kobani. Turkey initially prevented Kurds from supporting the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This angered many Kurds in Turkey who had previously supported the AKP.
Further, the AKP lost a significant number of seats in the cities bordering Syria. Its total dropped from 30 to 20 seats — a loss of one-third of its seats which is another sign that AKP’s Syria policy is backfiring and along with corruption allegations, it is a major cause for its electoral defeat. The AKP leadership will or should take note of the backlash.
Even if the AKP manages to form a coalition government it is very likely that it will not be able to continue with its reckless support of the NATO-backed rebels. Lack of AKP support will be a major blow to the rebels and may lead to significant changes on the Aleppo and Idlib fronts.