Özer Khalid
Last updated: 15 June, 2015

“No coalition government in Turkey ever successfully completed a full political term”

Özer Khalid analyzes the prospects – and political alternatives – for prompt government formation in Turkey.

Turkey, on June the 7th 2015, migrated to an uncertain political époque, as the electorate unshackled President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development (AK) party’s reins of power. Such a thirst for regime change echoes a broader reform zeitgeist amidst the tumultuous times of a Post-Arab Spring.
The quintessential question now is where Turkey mutates to next. Mr Erdoğan might request a recently resigned Davutoğlu, to form a government.  Mr Erdoğan may scuttle under a ceremonial presidency, espousing a non-meddling back-seat, permitting Mr Davutoğlu to knit together a coalition with the opposition; Mr Abdullah Gul could also be vying for the prime ministerial title, via a by-election. However unlike Davutoğlu, Gul is less likely to play second-fiddle to Erdoğan.  

These elections were by no means a fait accompli. It is naïveté to write off President Erdoğan prematurely. The center right-wing in Turkey sways 60% of votes whereas the center-left holds 40%, on June 7thDe facto, the AKP won a fourth election scooping 40.8% of the vote, teetering Turkey into the throes of constitutional ambiguity. Second in place were the secular-nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) at 24.96% with 132 seats, third the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) at 16.29% with 80 seats and fourth the leftist People`s Democratic Party (HDP) at 13.12%.  

For the first time in Turkey’s history, 18 million Kurds, Armenians  and Yazidis received Parliamentary representation via the HDP, an emissary for the excluded, buoyed by a charismatic Selahattin Demirtaş, evolving the Kurdish movement from the blood-stained battlefields of the southeast to the corridors of influence in Ankara.

HDP leader Demirtaş. Photo via HDP’s Facebook page

The AK, with opposition support, may form a minority government with 258 seats, 18 seats shy for single party rule. Though CHP, MHP and HDP leaders are lukewarm. Partly because a marriage of coalition convenience dents their image as tactical weakness in the event of re-elections. A junior coalition partner must also justify their sudden U-turn to a discerning electorate.

As for an AK-CHP coalition, though CHP’s Murat Karayalçin declined, their leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, beset by internal leadership crisis, may be sanguine. Rumors about an AK-CHP tie-up deepen as Deniz Baykal, Mr Kiliçdaroğlu’s predecessor, met Mr Erdoğan on June 10th.

AK’s most viable coalition partner is the rightwing MHP. AK-MHP would total  58% of the vote, a tactical right-wing shift reflecting a broader global right-wing resurgence as with BJP’s Modi, Germany’s Pegida and France’s Front National.

The AK might court HDP for a coalition. Mr Erdoğan’s tacit backing of ISIS in a battle for the Kurdish city of Kobani alienated pro-AK Kurds toward HDP. AK’s chance of grazing single-party rule is to re-entice these Kurds. This can be secured by extending an olive branch to the HDP. Though Mr Demirtaş won`t cede, Mr Öcalan, caving into Kissingerian realpolitik, clasping influence over the HDP, may acquiesce. Mr Öcalan is instrumental in defeating part of Syrian ISIS reclaiming ‘Rojava’ or Syrian Kurdistan. This would compel AK to posit a harder anti-ISIS stance. Turkey can ill-afford to play gateway for militants traveling from Europe to Syria.

If the AK cannot find a coalition partner it may devolve the task of government formation to the CHP, which could form a minority government or tie the knot with MHP, with MHP`s Devlet Bahçeli yearning to resurrect AK’s corruption charges. But still CHP-MHP’s cumulative seats lack a majority. CHP-MHP would need HDP’s acquiescence, though MHP’s nationalist rhetoric renders this unlikely. MHP’s Mr Bahçeli seeks a cessation of peace talks with HDP’s Mr Öcalan, alienating Kurds.

“AK’s most viable coalition partner is the rightwing MHP”No coalition government in Turkey ever successfully completed a full political term. Any junior coalition partner would extract their proverbial pound of flesh, à la Merchant of Venice. Coalitions necessitate checks and balances à la Montesqieu, not yet fully ingrained in Turkey’s political DNA. Lack of a coalition implies early elections over the next 40 days, wherein the political pendulum could swing to reassert AK’s mandate to power.

These elections imply a closer scrutiny of Turkey’s foreign policy on the global geo-strategic chessboard, possibly triggering deeper engagement between Turkey, the US and the West, partially unraveled over the past 13 years. Though a rapprochement toward a resource-rich Middle East and China is irreversible. Especially as Europe is debt-saddled where the Euro hits the doldrums. Angela Merkel’s ‘privileged partnership’ offer to Turkey is unappealing for Turks as it falls way short of full-blown membership.

What unfolds in Turkey next is of monumental consequence for the Middle East. Turkey is a harbinger for moderate Muslim democracy. A defiant Assad in neighboring Syria, a nuclear assertive Iran and region-wide tumult with a Yemen war underscore the salience of Turkey’s stability.  As a pivotal NATO ally, at a geo-political epicenter, Turkey can ill-afford cumbersome political uncertainty now. Turkey, and the wider region’s future hinges on prompt government formation and decisive action.