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The End of Pax Erdoğan?

Turkey’s most recent general election results were full of surprises writes Özgür Ünlühisarcıklıs. For the first time in 13 years, the Justice and Development Party (AKParty) of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lost a majority. It won 40.85 percent of the votes, a drop from 49.95 percent in 2011. This result was significant for a number of reasons. First of all, while AKParty remains the major actor in Turkish politics, its period of majority rule has come to an end. We may not see another majority government in Turkey for many years to come.

Unless Turkey’s political parties adapt to this reality, which requires a culture of consensus and cohabitation, political stability will be a challenge. It is most likely that the AKP will lead Turkey’s next government, but as a senior coalition partner. Pax Erdoğan has also come to an end. Erdoğan is still Turkey’s first president to be elected by a popular vote and he is the most popular politician in the country. However, he will no longer single-handedly shape Turkey’s future according to his personal vision.

A conversion to a presidential system will not be on the agenda for the foreseeable future. While Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had devolved some of his powers to Erdoğan, creating a de-facto presidential system, such an arrangement is unlikely to be accepted by AKParty’s future coalition partner, whoever that may be. Internal dynamics within the party will also be watched closely. Erdoğan expected nothing less than a qualified majority, and is probably deeply disappointed by the outcome. He may consider scapegoating Davutoğlu, and replacing him through the party congress, which is scheduled to convene in August.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was the rising star in these elections. It successfully repositioned itself from a single-issue Kurdish party to a left-wing party with a wider constituency. With a progressive manifesto, a diverse list of candidates, a moderate rhetoric, a creative campaign, and a charismatic but modest leader in Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP managed to establish itself as a national party, double its vote share and pass the 10 percent threshold required for a presence in parliament. In fact, many voters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) cast their votes for the HDP in order to help it pass the threshold and deny the AKParty a mandate to unilaterally change the constitution.

This strategy actually worked. Turkey is now faced with three possible scenarios for the immediate future. The most desirable outcome would be the formation of a coalition government, but that will be easier said than done. While the AKParty has signaled that they are open to a coalition government, all of the three other parties have demonstrated reluctance to form a coalition with them.

CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has announced that they will work on a coalition that excludes the AKParty. This formula would require the cooperation of CHP, MHP, and HDP, but the cohabitation of the latter two would be very difficult as they have conflicting positions on fundamental issues. In case a coalition government is impossible to form, then either the AKParty or the CHP could try to form minority governments. Such a government would be short-lived and would be given the mandate to take Turkey to early elections at the earliest convenient date.

In case neither a coalition nor a minority government can be formed within the next 45 days, Erdoğan would have the authority to form an election government with ministers from all parties in the parliament and take Turkey to early elections immediately. However, early elections would not change the political landscape in any significant way and Turkey would be back to square one, after a waste of precious time and resources.

Fearing the repercussions of political uncertainty on the financial markets, various representatives of the business community in Turkey have already publicly urged the political parties to take a responsible and conciliatory approach and manage to form a government without the need of an early election. The reluctance demonstrated by the other parties to form a coalition with the AKParty can also be taken as posturing with the aim of increasing bargaining power during the coalition talks and building a firewall against the criticisms that could come from opposition circles for cooperating with the AKParty.

Once all other options are exhausted, one of the other parties could begin coalition talks with the AKParty, using the argument that it would be irresponsible to leave the country without a government. Any of these parties would suggest a reversion to constitutional limits for the president and the reopening of government corruption cases as preconditions of a coalition. An era has ended in Turkey, but a new one has not yet begun.

Ozgür Ünlühisarcıklı is the director of the German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) office in Ankara, Turkey. This article was first published by the GMF.


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