What next for Turkey?

Turkey and the world were surprised by the results of the June 7, 2015 Parliamentary elections in Turkey. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority, receiving 258 seats (based on receiving about 41% of the vote), 18 votes short of an absolute majority (276 seats), and far from 330 seats which would have allowed AKP to call a referendum to increase the powers of the President (a move supported by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was elected to the Presidency in 2014 for a 5-year term); the Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 132 seats (based on about 25% of the vote); the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) now will have 80 seats in Parliament (having received about 16% of the vote); and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish party with other interests (women’s rights, LGBT, secular Turks) mixed in, will also have 80 seats in Parliament (based on about 13% of the vote).

At an event I attended in Manhattan on June 7th to follow live the Turkish election results, hosted by Turkey’s Ambassador to the US, Serdar Kilic, Steve Forbes commended the Turkish people for conducting the elections “in an exemplary fashion.” Also, journalist Judith Miller observed that the 2015 Turkish elections were an “extraordinary testament to Turkey’s vibrancy as a democracy.”

The leader of the Short-Term OSCE Observer Mission for the Turkish Elections released a statement that “the elections engaged society in a vibrant and hard-fought campaign, and demonstrated that there is a real choice from among strong political forces in Turkey.” In a turbulent Middle East, this certainly was a great achievement by Turkey.

No one really knows what is next on the horizon. Some choices being discussed include: (a) a coalition between the AKP and MHP, a definite maybe; (b) a coalition between AKP and CHP –a very broad political coalition, unlikely; (c) a coalition between AKP and HDP – unlikely; or (d) a coalition between CHP and MHP, with the support of HDP (not directly in the coalition), which would in effect be a minority government, unlikely.

The most likely possibility is a coalition between AKP and MHP, but this option is tricky and could fail because of the MHP’s demands that: there be a clear limitation on Presidential powers; there be a slowdown or halt to the Kurdish peace process negotiated by the Turkish government (although a possible upside of the Parliamentary results was bringing the Kurdish peace process directly into the Parliament where the HDP, the Pro-Kurdish Party, will now have 80 seats); and that corruption allegations be fully investigated. As for the last of the above MHP conditions, possibly indicating some AKP flexibility on this point, it is interesting to note the recent statement of (AKP) Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc that four former Turkish ministers who were indicted on corruption charges (and whose cases were not referred to the Supreme Court because of the AKP Parliamentary majority) could face another parliamentary indictment.

The AKP’s leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told his party’s senior members that a coalition with MHP would be “compatible,” while a coalition with CHP would bring “more solutions.” Neither may happen.

If a coalition can’t be cobbled together within 45 days from the election date, then a new national “snap” election will be called. AKP might want to take a chance and try again to achieve an absolute majority of 276 seats, but risks the possibility of losing in a new election by even a greater margin. A new government would theoretically be in office for up to 4 years, although new elections could be called sooner than four years.

The pressure for a coalition was evidenced by former President Abdullah Gul’s phone call to President Erdogan after the June 7 elections, in which Gul was quoted as saying that the message from the elections was for a coalition government and that “making a decision for early election via turning a blind eye to this will that came out of the ballot box would be a very grave mistake. This mistake may lead to more fatal results for the AKP in the future.”

The nail biting aspect of this election was the HDP, Pro-Kurdish party, and whether HDP would achieve the 10% threshold to enter Parliament – they did even better than that under the leadership of Selahattin Demirtas. This 10% threshold is the highest parliamentary threshold in the world (compare to Germany at 5%; Israel at 3.25%), which has been criticized for keeping smaller parties and factions out of Parliament.

For example, in the 2002 elections, AKP received about 34% of the vote, but received 363 out of 550 seats (gaining 102 bonus votes by the reallocation of votes of parties receiving less than 10%). In that election, for example, the True Path Party received 40 seats, but only 9.55% of the votes –forfeiting those 40 seats which were reallocated to the larger parties; also, about 16 political parties were shut out of Parliament because they did not reach the 10% threshold. In the 2015 elections, the 10% threshold was the Olympic hurdle that the HDP had to overcome and they did it – gaining a significant foothold in the Parliament.

On the perception front, Turkey looked very good for the transparency of the election and the very high turnout (86%). However, for Moody’s, “the election result is credit negative for Turkey because in the short term it will likely result in greater political uncertainty arising from the probable creation of a minority or coalition government, that we would expect to be unstable and prone to early elections.

Additionally, the outcome will likely further delay the implementation of economic policies to reduce external vulnerabilities, improve the investment climate and reactivate economic growth”. Also, “In the more immediate future, the election result suggests that one-party majority rule, that has been the norm in Turkey for the past 13 years, will be replaced with a more uncertain minority government or a multi-party coalition, which will be inherently less stable.” Turkey needs to get its act together and quickly resolve political differences.

Turkey’s foreign policy is in a state of flux and the confusion following the elections won’t help. Overall, the US and Turkey must work very hard to more closely align their policies on a variety of issues. For example, the US and Turkey have disagreed on how to deal with Syria and ISIS.

Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Israel, Syria and Egypt. Turkey was heroic in taking in almost 2 million Syrian refugees, but faces an enormous challenge in how to deal with and absorb these refugees as the Syrian crisis has no end in sight. As for Israel, while bilateral trade with Turkey continues to improve, there will likely not be any improvement in Israel’s political relations with Turkey in the short-term while Parliamentary negotiations are underway to form a government, and possibly in the long run depending on who is in charge of the government.

Turkey’s exchanging Ambassadors with Israel, and restoring full diplomatic relations, can only be helpful to Turkey as this will open a line of communications between the two countries that was severed as a result of the Mavi Marmara incident (and would result in tangible benefits to Turkey related to energy resources). Once the election issues are resolved, there needs to be a commitment to the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel. As for Egypt, Turkey needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach in dealing with the actual government in power in Egypt.

Turkey needs to advance its EU accession process immediately (notwithstanding pushback from some European powers). The EU-US Free Trade negotiations (TTIP) are moving ahead quickly, and the US Congress seems to be poised to approve Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority for the President – this is important for Turkey because if the US negotiates the TTIP free trade agreement with the EU, then Turkey must have its own Free Trade Agreement with the US in order to offset the significant negative impact of the TTIP on the Turkish economy.

Turkey can’t afford to be in limbo – the Parliamentary stalemate must be resolved quickly. In the short run, a coalition will only be a temporary solution – as the main impetus must be for all of the parties and factions to work together to solve Turkey’s tremendous challenges, both internal and external. The transparency and institutional success exhibited by the recent elections must continue and be implemented widely within Turkish government and society. Only through consensus can there be a resolution that catapults Turkey to greater heights of achievement and success. Turkey must do this to fully achieve its status as a major regional and global player.

Mark Meirowitz is Assistant Professor of Humanities at SUNY Maritime College in New York. He lectures and writes on Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-U.S. Relations and related subjects, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the American Turkish Council.

 

 

 

 

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