Beyond Turkey’s Elections Coalition or Uncertain Future?


Abdur Rahman Fuad#

The Turkish general election of 2015 was held on June to elect the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly. The election was the 24th general election in the history of the Turkish Republic and the elected members formed the 25th Parliament of Turkey. Amid speculation that no party would win enough seats to govern alone, the result was the first hung parliament since 1999. Instead of the two-thirds majority, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had wanted to change the constitution and create a new presidential republic, the AKP Party, while remaining the biggest party, failed even to achieve a simple majority. The outcome augurs weeks of unpredictability as parties vie to form a coalition and possible early elections.
All three other parties (MHP, HDP, CHP) who crossed the 10 percent threshold needed to win seats in the National Assembly said they would not join forces with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded by the former prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.tor1
No other combination of parties is likely, meaning the AKP will either have to try to govern alone in a minority or give in to new elections, which are unlikely to bring about a different result. The results of the elections have yet to be validated but show that the AKP won 258 seats in the 550-seat parliament on 41 per cent of the vote, 18 short of an overall majority and a far cry from the 367 seats it was targeting. Reaching that target would have been enough to force through the constitutional changes Mr Erdogan sought to vest political power in the presidency rather than the cabinet as at present.
The republican CHP, the mainstream party for secular voters of the Left and centre, won 132 seats from 25 per cent of the votes, while the Right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won 80 seats from 16 per cent. As a minority seats, Turkey was facing a period of prolonged instability in last general election after opposition parties refused to join a coalition with the ruling Islamist party, whose majority in parliament was destroyed in a devastating election result.
It appears that Mr Erdogan’s power must be diluted by AKP’s loss of a parliamentary majority, but it is not clear by how much. The outcome of the Turkish election affects two pivotal issues facing the government in Ankara: its degree of involvement in the Syrian civil war and its relationship with Kurds, both in Turkey and Syria. Therefore, a coalition or minority government is bound to be weaker than what went before and thus less able to launch incursions into Syria or support rebels there.
Also the ruling party has played a central role in trying to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad since the Syrian uprising of 2011. The 510 mile Turkish border with Syria has never been entirely closed to armed opposition groups including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate. The Syrian Kurds see, Turkey as a staging area for the jihadi groups against which they are fighting, and say angrily that Turkish border crossings held by ISIS are open, while those giving passage to Kurdish held zones are closed. Turkish government equivocations about which side it was on during the four and-a-half month siege of Kobani infuriated many Kurds.
Much will depend on whether a coalition is formed by AKP and with whom. The HDP says so far that it will not enter a coalition, but if it does decide to do so it might prove to be the best political “fit” for the government. Although the AKP has never agreed to the formal peace-making negotiations that the Kurds want, it has engaged in sporadic efforts to conciliate Turkey’s Kurdish minority, an approach not shared by the other main Turkish parties. Many Kurds had previously voted for the AKP for just that reason the HDP’s success at the polls comes mainly from persuading those Kurds to give their votes to it instead.
On the other hand, if Mr Erdogan were to do a deal with the far right Nationalist Action Party, which also did well in the election, this would alienate the Kurds and reverse AKP’s previous grudging moves towards satisfying their grievances.
There will be the question of an AKP counter-attack to reclaim lost ground and to re-establish its political dominance which had been growing since its first electoral victory in 2002. AKP has the advantage that there is no alternative government that could conceivably be formed from among the three opposition parties. There could be another general election if no government is formed within 45 days.
But to alter the constitution, AKP needed to win a supermajority of the 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly in the last June 7 election. At the start of the campaign, Erdogan asked the public to give his party 400 seats a super-duper majority. He fell a bit short, the 258 seats AKP won was not even enough for a simple majority. For the first time since 2002, AKP will need to find a partner in order to govern. None of the other parties say they want to serve as junior partner, including the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) the upstart whose 13 percent of the vote cost AKP its majority. HDP is a Kurdish party, long linked to the guerrilla movement that fought a separatist war on behalf of the country’s largest minority, which Kamalists refused to recognize as an ethnicity. In the election, however, HDP campaigned on peace, and drew not only from the Kurdish southeast of Turkey but also the substantial population of ethnic Turks who no longer feel threatened by a minority identity in the land. And surely many who opposed Erdogan.
Turkey election: What we need to know?tor2
Many Kurds until recently were happy to vote for the AKP, which had agreed to greater Kurdish autonomy, but Mr Erdogan caused widespread offence by refusing to help the Syrian Kurds in their fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the border town of Kobane.
That has left the HDP unwilling to join the AKP in the coalition they now need to keep hold of government. Other side, The MHP is said to be a more natural ally in terms of Right-wing policies, but the long mutual hostility of the two parties also makes a formal alliance unlikely.tor3
The result is a threat to the Syrian opposition, which has relied on the support of Turkey as it smuggles men and arms into the fight against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. That has risked a serious blowback to Mr Erdogan as hard line jihadist groups, including both ISIL and al-Qaeda, come to dominate the rebel groups in the north.

Five takeaways from the Turkish election

1. Twelve years in Turkey’s political system as a dominant time
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s  apparently unstoppable rise hit a democratic bumper in Turkey’s parliamentary elections last month, despite his presiding over 12 mostly boom years at the top of Turkey’s political system and the fact that his party won more than 40 percent of the vote. For sure, Turks have become tired of a creeping authoritarianism, a narrowing space for opposition, tightening state control of the judiciary, policy mistakes in Syria and the Middle East, and an extravagant 1,150-room presidential palace.
2. Democracy works, even for Kurds
It helped that the leader of the Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirta?, ran a superb campaign, resulting in his party receiving 13 percent of the vote. Demirta? had all the right lines, even when a bomb killed two people and injured 100 just before his last big rally, calming supporters by saying that- They must give the answer at the ballot box.
3. The result may well help efforts to end Turkey’s PKK insurgency
Now that HDP has won a place in Ankara as a political party and not as a group of independents, there is a clear, legitimate, Kurdish counterpart for solving the Kurdish problem in Turkey. Whatever platform is chosen for the discussion in parliament, a constitutional convention, a group of wise persons- it will need to address long-standing Kurdish concerns about their demands. Such political advances there will be little chance of persuading the PKK to disarm in Turkey or of turning a ceasefire in place since 2013 into a long-lasting peace settlement.
4. Politics are going to be uncertain in Turkey for a while
Some commentators thought the AKP would push for another election in the hope of winning back their lost ground. But the newly empowered parliament would have to vote for that, which seems unlikely. A minority AKP government supported from the outside by another party also would not be sustainable, and seems unlikely.
5. Turkey is not going back to the bad old days of the 1970s or 1990s
Long-faced AKP supporters gloomily started recalling the bad old days of coalition governments in the 1970s and 1990s that led to runaway inflation and bloody domestic conflicts. They believed that Turkey would miss the political stability and almost uninterrupted economic growth it has known under Erdogan’s rule, and the mega infrastructure projects of his “New Turkey” that built new roads, railways and airports all over the country.

Key of surprising results of Turkey’s election
From seismic vote shifts and unprecedented representation to the curious case of invalid votes, here is the never-before-seen outcome in five points after Turkey’s 2015 election
1. Seismic vote shift
Seismic vote shift shakes the ruling party Compared to the 2011 general elections, the ruling Party lost more than 2.5 million votes in the June 7 elections, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) remained around the same level, with some of its votes going to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased its votes by 2 million. Kurdish problem-focused independent candidates had received 2.8 million votes in 2011, but the HDP managed to get over 6 million votes.
So, simply put, all the other major parties got stronger while the ruling party got weaker in all provinces, particularly in metropolises. The CHP broke the domination of the AKP in the Black Sea region by taking the province of Zonguldak and dealt it significant blows in the Aegean. The MHP hit the AKP in Central Anatolian and Black Sea provinces, while the HDP grabbed five southeastern and eastern provinces from the ruling party’s hands.
2. The New Turkey
The new Turkish parliament is the culmination of the people’s demands since the 2013 Gezi Park protests; a better democracy, pluralism, checks & balances and de-centralism, all of which contradict Erdogan’s presidential ambitions.
As such, there will be 97 women deputies in the 550-seat assembly (18 percent), which is an all-time high. They are joined by four Christians, while the very first Roma and Yazidi community deputies have also been elected.
3.  Better representation
Due to the 10 percent national election threshold, which is the highest in the world, the amount of unrepresented votes has traditionally been higher in Turkey. In fact, the AKP could be able to form a strong single party government with only 34 percent of the votes in 2002, because 45 percent of the votes had gone to parties which failed to reach the threshold.
Now, more than 95 percent of the votes will be represented in the new parliament. This is the highest ratio since the current system was formed after the 1980 military coup that undermined pluralism and encouraged bipartisanism. From 1983 to 2011, the ratio of parliamentary representation had swung between 41 percent and 86 percent.
4. The rise of the left
The opposition parties’ economy-focused campaigns, coupled with several populist demands, made the race an away game for the AKP, which is more skilled in ideologically-driven politics.
The two left-wing parties, the CHP and HDP received more than 35 percent of the votes. Even the Turkish nationalist MHP flirted with the Alive votes, which are traditionally left-wing. Even if you ignore the blue collar and leftist votes within the AKP, these votes have brought about the greatest number of left-wing seats in the parliament since 1980.
5.  Invalid votes
This is probably the most surprising number about the 2015 elections in Turkey. More than 1.3 million votes cast were deemed invalid, marking a roughly 30 percent increase from recent elections. This number is even higher than the fifth-largest party, Saadet, which received some 942,000 votes. It is also higher than all votes cast in the latest elections in Greek Cyprus, Estonia and Montenegro combined.tor4
Some of these invalid votes could have been cast in protest with a similar attitude to the case of a voter in Izmir who stamped his forehead to declare that he had no faith in any party (According to the Anadulu). Some others could be confused due to the awful design of the ballot papers, which put independent candidates right below the parties, leading many citizens to stamp it twice, hence rendering the vote invalid.
6. Breakthrough of the vote
Via the Guardian live blog of the election, a breakdown of the vote among Turkish people living abroad and the countries where each party is strongest (most probably a reflection of the timing and composition of migrant communities in the various countries)
AKP 49.91% (Germany, Australia, France and Algeria)
HDP 20.42% (United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy and Canada)
CHP 17.02% (Russia, United States and China)
MHP 9.24% (Albania)           (Source: The wall Street journal, 2015)

But why have all these surprising changes happened now?

The AKP’s numbers have actually been in a downward spiral since at least September 2014. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive rhetoric apparently alienated many of its voters at a time the economy in the country was worsening. Furthermore, the AKP failed to solve its existential dilemma stemming from the fact that it was engaging in the Kurdish peace bid as a party, which relies on both the Turkish nationalist and Kurdish conservative votes.

When the AKP started to oscillate between two extremes, many voters perceived it as insincere and changed their votes at the earliest opportunity they saw an alternative at a time of harder economic times. So not only did its failures in major political issues damage the AKP during its campaign but so too did its bad choices in creating and shaping polemics that contradicted the realities of daily life.
All these factors indicate that harder, not easier, times lie ahead for Turkey’s ruling party, as it is now marching into terra incognita of coalitions and minority governments after years of getting so used to majoritarianism and unilateralism.

If Turkey’s current political landscape was to really change, it would have to be through two simultaneous developments: the fall of AKP support and the formation of dynamic and stable coalitions, partnerships or some form of teamwork among Turkey’s opposition parties. A third scenario would require a massive fall in AKP votes in favor of another party, which seems to be totally out of the question at this point. But of course, there is always the option to disregard “farce” as political science and believe in miracles, that’s why not?