No Delight for Erdogan: The implications of a pivotal election for Turkey.
On Sunday the 7th of June the Turkish people dashed the hopes of their President. Turks went to the polls in an election that had the potential to upend the parliamentary system that has served Turkey for nearly a century. Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hoped that his party could secure the two-thirds majority in parliament that would be needed for a rewriting of the constitution. Having served as Prime Minister for nearly over a decade from 2003 to 2014, Erdogan was elected President in late 2014. The President, who has been described by many as having presided over a Putin-esque administration, had hoped to use his party’s constitution re-writing majority to grant the presidency sweeping powers and institute a Presidential democracy.
The future for Turkey isn’t so assuredly rosy
The failure of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to even achieve a parliamentary majority shows how much the political landscape of Turkey has changed since the last elections, where the AKP were the clear winners. An increasingly feeble economy, fears over the inability of the government to manage the Syrian crisis and corruption scandals are part of the explanation for the result. They don’t paint the whole picture however; it was the spectacular emergence of the Kurds onto the national political scene that damaged the AKP. The Turkish parliament’s electoral threshold rule whereby a party has to win 10% of the national share to get any seats in parliament has long held back small parties. The decision by the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to field candidates as a party for the first time, despite the risk of falling below the electoral threshold, proved key. The HDP won just over 13% of the vote, giving it 80 seats in the Grand National Assembly and making it the fourth largest party and a new force in Turkish politics. The results has been hailed by various opposition groups as breaking new ground and allowing for Turkey to begin to move in a more democratic and secular direction.
The future for Turkey isn’t so assuredly rosy, however; the AKP still remains as the biggest party in the Assembly and Mr Erdogan shows no sign of adhering to rules that state the President should be non-partisan (he actively campaigned for the AKP during the election campaign). Whilst the encroaching authoritarianism of Mr Erdogan may have been stopped, the position of the AKP as the biggest party means that any government in Ankara will likely continue to be under his influence. The makeup of the Assembly also now calls for a coalition government. Whilst this isn’t impossible, such negotiations will take time and unnerve already jittery financial markets. The Lira has already dropped to an all-time low against the dollar. Such political uncertainty isn’t good for an economy that needs serious reform if the ‘economic miracle’ of 2002-2007 is to be salvaged.
That being said, the halt of an increasingly illiberal government (in 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Turkey as the worst journalist jailer on the globe) is undoubtedly a positive. The increasingly neo-Ottoman attitude of Mr Erdogan has endangered the country’s possibility of joining the EU, something both Turkey and the EU would benefit greatly from. The new diversity of the Assembly may help to restart these negotiations and hold any AKP government that may emerge to account for any increased illiberalism.
This election has proved the power of the Turkish electorate to speak its mind
The increased Kurdish representation may also have wider geopolitical implications. The Kurds of South-Eastern Turkey have increasingly found themselves embroiled in the Syrian Civil War. The ‘Solution Process’ in Turkey has been aiming to end the conflict between the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government. A 2013 ceasefire saw the PKK withdraw its forces form Turkey and into Northern Iraq, where it took up the fight against so-called Islamic State. Its role in the defence of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the support both militarily and politically from the West, has seen the question of Kurdish sovereignty rise up the political agenda in both the region and the West. The increased political voice of the Kurds in Ankara may well see the Kurdish dominated South-East receive the autonomy it desires, especially if the HDP is involved in coalition negotiations. Such a move would undoubtedly in turn allow Iraq and Syria’s large Kurdish minorities to argue for more autonomy, or even statehood. Even if such sweeping regional shifts don’t fully manifest, this election has proved the power of the Turkish electorate to speak its mind. In any case, Turkey is definitely changing, most likely for the better.