End of an era in Turkey as AKP loses majority
ISTANBUL - With a dramatic election behind it, Turkey is embarking on the challenge of finding a new government after the Muslim-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost the outright parliamentary majority it had enjoyed since 2002.
As the search begins, observers expect changes in Ankara that include a recalibration of Erdogan’s Syria policy and consequences for Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere in the Middle East.
One of the big unknowns is the question of what role Erdogan is to play in the new political environment. The 61-year-old former prime minister and AKP founding member spoke at countless rallies, thinly disguised as opening ceremonies, during the election campaign but has kept a low profile since his party’s heavy losses in the June 7th vote.
While remaining the strongest single political party with just less than 41% of the vote, the AKP’s number of parliamentary seats shrunk to 258, down from 328 after the elections four years ago — a “collapse”, as the anti-government daily Sozcu called it. The secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) came second with about 25% and 132 seats, followed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 16% and 80 deputies in parliament. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) scored huge gains, ending up with 13% and 80 seats.
As no party has the 276 seats needed to form a majority government, preliminary coalition talks are expected to start soon, with the new parliament scheduled to meet for the first time in late June. If no government can be put together within 45 days of the opening of the new parliament, Erdogan could use his powers as president to call for elections in the autumn.
Hayati Yazici, a former minister in the AKP government, said the party had to find the reasons for its biggest election setback since it was founded in 2001. “We have to think about where we were wrong and what we have to do,” he wrote on Twitter.
Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist of the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, said voters told the ruling party that it should “build a new AK Party before you build a new Turkey”.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the AKP’s priority was to try to form a government. “I don’t see fresh elections. We will try to form a coalition,” he said.
The AKP could ask the right-wing MHP to form a coalition. But some observers have suggested the Kurdish HDP could cooperate with the MHP and the CHP in an alliance against the AKP.
For the AKP and Erdogan, the election results mean they can no longer dominate the political scene as they have since the party came to power in 2002. Without a majority in parliament, the AKP is no longer able to rush laws through the assembly and it no longer controls parliamentary committees, which could lead to parliament taking a fresh look at corruption allegations against AKP members. Before the election, an AKP-dominated committee of inquiry dropped corruption charges against former AKP ministers.
It is not known how Erdogan will react to the new situation. Used to working with an AKP government that shared his political views, the president may be forced into a French-style “cohabitation” with a government at least partly including his political foes.
The election showed that voters favoured a scaled-back role for the president and not a continuation of Erdogan’s domination of government affairs, wrote Fehim Tastekin of the newspaper Radikal: “People do not want an ‘Erdogan regime’.”
As Turkish politicians get to work on a new government, analysts expect the country’s foreign policy to change as well. The days when the AKP and Erdogan could set foreign policy aims and strategy by themselves are over. In key areas such as Ankara’s approach to the Syrian conflict, Turkey’s position will be influenced by other parties in parliament.
Observers predict Turkey’s foreign policy, seen as abrasive and arrogant at times, will soften. “There will be no more statements of hegemony coming from the government,” political scientist Mensur Akgun of Istanbul’s Kultur Universitesi told the daily Hurriyet. “So the style of statements like ‘The Middle East is our turf. We are its protector’ will change.”
In Syria, Turkey has been pressing for a removal of President Bashar Assad. Opposition politicians and news reports say support for Syrian rebels included arms shipments, an accusation denied by the AKP government. With the new constellation in Ankara, Turkey’s Syria policy is now facing a revision, Tastekin wrote.
One indicator of what kind of changes will be demanded by potential coalition partners in Ankara is the stance of the CHP, Turkey’s second biggest party, which has been calling for an end of what it calls Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian war.
In a broader sense, the election also dealt a heavy blow to the AKP’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdogan’s party sees the Brotherhood as a kindred spirit of political Sunni Islam. During the “Arab spring”, Ankara hoped to wield influence throughout the Middle East with the help of Brotherhood-dominated governments like the Morsi administration in Egypt.
That plan failed and now the AKP itself has suffered defeat, wrote Ibrahim Varli of the BirGun newspaper: “People in Turkey and the Middle East have said ‘No to Brotherhoodisation’.”
While some consequences of the election on Turkey’s foreign policy will take time to make themselves felt, one element was clear already, he added: “With the downfall of the AKP, political Islam has lost its last stronghold in the Middle East. The project of Brotherhoodisation of the Middle East has been shelved for now.”