Turkish voters block Erdogan’s ambitions
ISTANBUL - Voters in Turkey have ended more than 12 years of one-party rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and soundly rejected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan for an executive presidency. The dramatic setback for one of the most powerful leaders in the region turned Turkish domestic politics upside down and is likely to have consequences for Ankara’s relations with the rest of the Middle East.
Polls had predicted losses for the AKP in the June 7th parliamentary election but nothing on the scale of what became apparent on election night. Turkish news reports said AKP members, certain that their party would hang on to power, had begun discussing cabinet posts. When they saw what happened, their jaws dropped.
The AKP’s share of the popular vote crashed from just less than 50% in 2011 to 40.9% this time. That leaves the AKP, which rose to power in November 2002, the strongest party but means it no longer controls a majority of seats in parliament: the number of AKP deputies melted from 328 four years ago to 258, almost 20 seats short of the number needed to form a majority government.
One reason for the AKP’s debacle was the success of the small Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s main Kurdish party, which won 13.1% of the vote and 80 seats. The HDP scored big in its south-eastern Anatolian heartland but also attracted support from non- Kurdish in cities such as Istanbul, which wanted to stop Erdogan’s presidential plans.
The secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), with just less than 25% of the vote, will have 132 deputies, while the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won 16.3% of the vote and 80 seats.
Observers said Erdogan was in part responsible for the AKP’s losses because he had declared the election a referendum on his vision for an executive presidency. The plan, painted by opponents as a dictatorial power grab, motivated opposition voters. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said the election result had, in effect, ended all talk about Erdogan’s project.
While the AKP was coming to terms with the new reality after the political earthquake, attention turned to the possible make-up of a new government to lead the country.
Demirtas ruled out any HDP role in a government that included the AKP and said an alliance between the AKP and the CHP, the two biggest parties, should be explored first.
The formal process of forming a government is to start after the new parliament convenes in late June. If no solution can be found, Turkey could face a fresh election in the fall.
Meanwhile, the drubbing for the AKP may lead to an overhaul of Turkey’s foreign policy.
Observers expect an end to what some call the AKP’s neo-Ottoman approach to the Middle East and a different Turkish stance on Syria.
Support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a cornerstone of the Islamist-oriented AKP Middle East policy, could also be phased out once the new government is in place.