Turkey faces fresh elections, Erdogan new push
Istanbul - Turkey is facing its second general election of 2015, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) starts a campaign to regain its parliamentary majority and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan resurrects his bid to introduce a presidential system.
Talks between the AKP and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on forming a coalition broke down August 13th, prompting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is also the AKP leader, to say snap elections were “the only option”. News reports say the poll could take place as early as the second half of October.
In a last-ditch effort August 17th, Davutoglu tried — and failed — to win approval from Devlet Bahceli, leader of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to form an alliance between the two parties until the election. Following his meeting with Bahceli, Davutoglu said “all formulas” to form a coalition had been exhausted.
Erdogan, who has remained de facto AKP leader despite becoming head of state last year, has been pushing for new elections. He raised the stakes by making it clear he is still pursuing his aim of an executive presidency to replace the current parliamentary system. Erdogan’s first bid to get enough parliamentary seats to push through the change failed when the AKP lost its majority in the house in elections in June.
Now the president wants to try again.
Erdogan has stretched current constitutional provisions that prescribe a non-partisan and mostly ceremonial role for the head of state. He has presided over cabinet meetings, set the political agenda in Ankara and attacked the opposition on an almost daily basis. Erdogan says the fact that he was elected president by popular vote in 2014 gives him a strong mandate that should now be turned into law by adapting the constitution.
“Like it or not, our system of government has changed,” Erdogan said on August 14th. “Now this factual situation has to be clarified and cemented in a new legal frame, a new constitution.”
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan’s statement amounted to a “coup” because the president had ignored existing rules. “Erdogan is saying ‘I have staged a coup, a new factual situation has been created, so now it’s time to build the legal framework for that,’” Kilicdaroglu told the Hurriyet daily. MHP deputy leader Sadir Durmaz said the president did not recognise the current constitution.
Critics say the breakdown of coalition talks show that Erdogan and the AKP never accepted defeat in the June election after governing Turkey alone for more than 12 years. Davutoglu remains in office as caretaker prime minister.
The June result, which saw the AKP’s share of the vote drop to 41% from almost 50% in 2011, was a personal defeat for Erdogan, who had asked voters to back his presidential plans by giving the AKP a large majority in the house.
However, Erdogan’s renewed insistence that Turkey introduce a presidential system indicates he thinks the AKP can win big in the new election and push through the changes.
The opposition accuses Erdogan of fanning new tensions between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels in an effort to drive down support for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP’s entry into parliament in June with 13% of the vote deprived the AKP of the majority in the chamber.
Erdogan’s supporters say fresh elections offer a chance for the AKP to regain votes it lost to the HDP in June. HDP voters were “sorry”, Yigit Bulut, Erdogan’s economic adviser, told the pro-government Sabah newspaper in August.
Heightened tensions, with almost daily attacks by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels and bombing raids by Turkish fighter jets on suspected PKK positions in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq, could create a rally-around-the-flag momentum among nationalist voters that would potentially benefit the AKP.
Behlul Ozkan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Marmara University, says Erdogan and the AKP leadership are convinced that peace talks between the government and the Kurdish PKK rebels in recent years hurt the AKP in June.
“In their view, the peace process gave legitimacy to the HDP and triggered a negative response by nationalist voters,” Ozkan said. “So the AKP said let’s stop” the peace process, he added.
But several polls cast doubt on the AKP’s expectation of emerging victorious from the fresh election now on the horizon.
At least three polls published in recent weeks say the pro-Kurdish HDP has a good chance of remaining in parliament, which would make it very difficult for the AKP to get a majority.
“There is no chance that the AKP will be able to govern alone after fresh elections,” pollster Bekir Agirdir of the Konda Institute told the secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet. He added the HDP was certain to end up above the 10% mark parties need to cross to be represented in parliament.
As the country gears up for the second general election within six months, questions are being asked about the AKP’s present leadership, which oversaw the campaign for the June election.
Pollster Adil Gur told the Internethaber news platform the governing party could not hope to make much headway if it left its leadership team and campaign style in place. “If the AK Party wants to return to government, the AK Party will have to change,” he said.