New elections in Turkey: Will they help Erdoğan's bid for more power?

President Erdoğan called Friday for a snap 'repeat election' after coalition talks failed. But Turkey's parties are still far apart, and a different result is far from certain.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/File
Supporters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sing and wave Turkish flags as they wait for their appearance in Istanbul on May 30, 2015, during a rally to commemorate the anniversary of city's conquest by the Ottoman Turks.

The results of June’s general election shook Turkish politics to its core, knocking President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) party from its perch after 13 years in power while propelling a pro-Kurdish party into parliament for the first time.

Now, Turkey is poised for another political shakeup, after Mr. Erdoğan on Friday called for snap elections to be held on Nov. 1, following the collapse of efforts to cobble together a coalition government earlier this week.

"On Nov. 1st, God willing, Turkey will experience a repeat election," Erdoğan told reporters in Istanbul.

At issue for Erdoğan is whether a fresh poll would see the AKP regain its majority to form a single-party government, which would allow him to transform the ceremonial presidency to grant himself sweeping new powers. In June’s election, his party lost nearly a quarter of its seats, in large part due to the success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). It won 13.1 percent of the vote, securing 80 seats.

Some analysts suggest Erdogan’s drive for new elections was long preordained, but question whether new elections will produce significantly different results.

Erdoğan is expected to ask Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu next week to form a temporary power-sharing cabinet that will govern Turkey up to the vote. Turkey's Constitution requires the interim government to be comprised of political party members in proportion to their seats in parliament. Erdoğan, however, suggested that he might tap members from outside parliament, if necessary.

A fresh ballot raises the prospect of further instability in a country that’s grown increasingly mired in regional and domestic strife. The Syrian conflict’s violent spillover into Turkey this summer prompted Ankara to join the US-led coalition battling the self-styled Islamic State (IS), whose members issued a retaliatory call to war this week against the NATO member state.

Meanwhile, the conflict between minority Kurds and the Turkish state has returned with a vengeance. In tandem with airstrikes against IS in Syria, Turkey launched a military offensive against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), shattering a two-year truce with the outlawed group that waged a violent 30-year insurgency for independence and greater rights. Violence is spreading across Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast, with at least a dozen Kurdish districts declaring autonomy in recent weeks.

Parties are far apart

The political uncertainty, coupled with mounting violence, saw consumer confidence fall to its lowest in more than six years in August, according to official data released Friday, while the Turkish lira tumbled to a record low. The tourism sector has also taken a hit.

Mr. Davutoğlu spent weeks negotiating with the biggest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and later with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), before the AKP on Tuesday formally abandoned efforts to find a junior coalition partner.

The parties are far apart on the ideological spectrum. Erdoğan’s conservative party has its roots in Islamist politics, while the secular CHP is the party of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Meanwhile, the nationalists are staunchly opposed to the peace process with the PKK, which Erdoğan initiated.

Resurgent violence between the Kurds and the Turkish state stands to hurt the pro-Kurdish party in the next round of elections. Government officials have sought to link the party to the PKK rebels, designated terrorists by Turkey and the US, while the party leadership is facing mass arrests of its elected deputies after Erdoğan called for investigations into their “terrorist links.”

High stakes gamble?

That’s prompted critics to suggest an electoral calculus behind Erdoğan’s moves throughout the coalition negotiations.

“From the get-go, Erdoğan never seriously considered a coalition government,” says Gönül Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “He knew that he wasn’t going to appeal to the liberal or Kurdish vote, so his plan has been to mobilize and to appeal to the nationalists. The fight against the PKK was part of that strategy.”

Wolfango Piccoli, managing director at New York-based political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, says snap elections are a “high-stakes gamble” for Erdoğan. “Current opinion polls suggest that new elections are unlikely to produce a different outcome to the 7 June results,” says Mr. Piccoli. “The AKP could even be penalized if voters believe that AKP’s strategy, driven by Erdoğan’s personal ambition, is forcing early elections.”

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