Turkey election: Long on drama, short on clarity

While Kurds celebrated the success of the People's Democratic Party, elected to Parliament for the first time, President Erdoğan suffered a blow to his drive for more power.

Emre Tazegul/AP
Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples's Democracy Party celebrate election results in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Monday, June 8, 2015. Turkey’s long-ruling Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suffered strong losses in parliamentary elections that will force it to seek a coalition partner for the next government, but other parties vowed to resist any pact as election results flowed in Monday.

Celebrations in this predominantly Kurdish city in the southeast carried into their second day Monday, as supporters of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party reveled in its election to Turkey’s parliament, a historic first.

The elections Sunday also dealt an unprecedented blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his bid to consolidate power, but the only thing certain in their aftermath is that Turkey is heading into a period of uncertainty.

“Erdoğan’s ambition to transform Turkey to an executive-style presidential system of government is now over,” says Fadi Hakura, a specialist on Turkish affairs at Chatham House, London. “The silver lining in this election is that voters in Turkey have clearly rejected the creation of a super powerful presidency, but what happens next is not at all clear.”

For the first time since sweeping into power in 2002, Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority, falling 18 seats short of the 276 needed to govern alone in Ankara’s 550-member parliament. But with all three opposition parties having campaigned against Erdoğan, forming a coalition will be difficult.

If the AKP, with 258 seats, is unable to form a governing alliance within 45 days after official results are confirmed, Turkey could be in for another round of elections.

AKP soul-searching

Securing roughly a quarter of the vote, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) remained the second largest party in the parliament with 132 seats. But the secularist party is ideologically opposed to the Islamist-rooted AKP, and has ruled out the prospect of a coalition.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) ran on a leftist platform that emphasized equality and the rights of Turkey’s disenfranchised minorities. But the party, which won 80 seats, also attracted voters frustrated with Erdoğan’s policies, and a coalition with his party would be anathema to its anti-government base.

The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with 81 seats, is seen as the most likely junior coalition partner for the AKP, but its leadership too has so far ruled out a partnership.

The loss in support for the AKP, meanwhile, is likely to leave the party fragmented and shaken.

“The AKP may go through a period of soul-searching and potential leadership change, raising concerns about its unity in the medium term,” says Wolfango Piccoli, managing director at New York-based political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence. “Uncertainty is likely to prevail over the next few weeks, at the very least.”

Victory for the Kurds

The Kurds emerged as the big winners in Sunday’s poll, with the HDP securing enough votes to pass the 10 percent threshold for entering the legislature. In the celebrations that continued Monday, jubilant HDP supporters gathered in Newroz Square in central Diyarbakir, and throughout the city, to mark their victory. 

“I am so happy that the HDP got into parliament because it will mean the Kurdish people will have a voice in government and that Turkey will finally have peace,” says Dilek Curduz, a university student who wore several bracelets bearing the Kurdish flag.

Like many HDP supporters interviewed in this city, Ms. Curduz expressed hope that the HDP victory would breathe fresh energy into stalled peace talks between the state and insurgents from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

But with no clarity on what a new government might look like, the conflict – which Turkish officials say claimed 40,000 lives over the course of three decades – will, at best, remain frozen. What’s more, if Erdoğan’s party forms an alliance with the MHP, a peace settlement would likely be a nonstarter. The MHP is firmly opposed to the government-led peace process with the Kurds, and occupies the opposite position of the HDP on Turkey’s political spectrum.

Turkey’s once-booming economy had until recently helped Erdoğan and the AKP win every election since 2002. But the economy has been weighed down by rising inflation, unemployment, and debt. Analysts predict tough times ahead amid the political uncertainty. On Monday, Turkish stocks dropped while the lira tumbled to a new low against the dollar.

“Turkey has entered what economists call the middle income trap: a slow growth regime unless government takes fundamental structural reforms to improve competitiveness and productivity,” says Chatham House’s Mr. Hakura. “With no credible opposition able to take the helm of the government, such reforms are not likely to take place anytime soon.”

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