Last week, some 86 percent of Turkey’s 76 million citizens voted in the national parliamentary elections.
Those citizens essentially told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist who has ruled Turkey for the past 13 years, that his longtime ambition to become a “strong president,” or — as some of his close associates put it — a “Sultan,” will not happen anytime in the near future.
At least not through the ballot box.
Despite 20 parties competing for the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament, Erdogan really believed that his AKP party would increase its seats in the parliament to 400, comfortably over the 330 needed to make the constitutional changes he wants.
But the voters thought otherwise. In what were by all accounts fair, clean and democratic elections, the voters gave Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the AKP, less than 41 percent of the vote, about half of what they received in the last elections four years ago.
The final results were:
- AKP “Justice and Development” (right, Islamist), 40.9 percent = 258 seats
- CHP “Republican People’s Party” (center-left), 25 percent = 132 seats
- MHP “Nationalist Movement Party” (far right), 16 percent = 80 seats
- HDP “People’s Democratic Party” (left, pro-Kurdish, pro-women, pro-gays), 13 percent = 80 seats
While the AKP received more votes than any other party and technically can govern as a minority government with the tacit support of the right-wing MHP, in practice neither it nor any of the other parties can really govern without a firm coalition.
Two problems here: First, historically no minority or coalition government in Turkey has survived long.
Second, as of this writing no party, including the right-wing MHP, has expressed an interest in joining or supporting Erdogan’s megalomaniac ambitions.
Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted that all the opposition spokesmen have said that their parties would not form a coalition with Erdogan’s AKP.
If no government gets a vote of confidence in the Parliament 45 days after the election, new elections must be called.
Steven A. Cook, an expert on Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that Erdogan could be “setting things up for a snap election.”
If this happens, then the AKP could launch a blitz campaign, handing out promises and economic “goodies” while repeating convincing arguments that a robust, one-party government with a strong leader is preferable to ongoing political and economic uncertainty, and reminding the voters that Turkey actually thrived economically during Erdogan’s 13-year rule.
Shifting toward president
Erdogan still vows to continue trying to shift Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, insisting that it would create more efficient governance.
Others say that his version would just lead to a tyrannical and authoritarian Islamist rule.
Interesting note: The clear victor in these elections is Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic, 42-year-old Kurdish lawyer who heads the HDP. Under his leadership, the party transformed from a group fighting mainly for Kurdish rights into a mainstream liberal party that advocates more rights for women, gays and other minorities.
Supporters of Demirtas’ HDP and the other minority parties registered a clear protest vote against Erdogan, though he still enjoys strong support among religious conservatives and the poorer citizens, thousands of whom joined the middle class during his terms of office.
Erdogan’s main problem in these elections was his “neo-Ottoman” politics — his suppression of the media and perceived desire for absolute power, as well as his unpopular crackdown on the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, many of whom he had arrested and tortured, after accusing them of launching a corruption investigation against him.
While no one really expects major shifts in Turkish foreign policy, the popularity of pro-Kurdish HDP could increase efforts to grant more rights to Turkey’s Kurds.
Cordial relations with Israel
A coalition government, if one is established, might also be less interested on spending resources to oust President Bashir Assad of Syria, one of Erdogan’s key foreign policy priorities today.
Regarding Israel, contrary to media reporting, relations between the two countries have remained cordial and cooperative. Trade continues, Israeli tourists still go to Turkey (though less than in the past) and military-to-military cooperation, on a national interest basis, is good.
While remaining in NATO, Turkey will probably continue to let extremist Islamists from all over the world move back and forth across the border with Syria to join DAESH (ISIS) or al-Qaida’s Al Nusra Front.
As Rand Beers, a former senior U.S. national security official, said after the elections: “There is no chance of a solution in the region that does not involve Turkey.”
Together with most analysts I believe that Turkey, regardless of its type of government, will continue to play a vital role in the region’s politics.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.