By Ömer Faruk Gençkaya (Marmara University)
After an uninterrupted 12-year period of running a majority government, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) faced a real challenge in the latest parliamentary elections on June 7, 2015. The AKP, which lost its primary objectives of democracy, pluralism and accountability, had fallen short to form a majority government for the first time since the 2002 elections. The electoral turnout was about 84%, and 3% of the votes were invalid.
The AKP based its campaign strategy on further “polarization” by inflaming nationalist-religious sentiments and using the conspiracy theory of a “parallel state” and similar alleged plots. President Erdogan, as the founder of the AKP, also organized more than 35 meetings (“parallel campaigns”) and mentioned the AKP’s victory directly or indirectly. The president violated the principle of “impartiality”, which is laid down in the constitution, several times and abused state resources in the elections, but the Supreme Election Board, which is the sole authority to conduct the elections, declared its lack of competence. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) forged ahead with its economic policy promises that confused the government party. The Nationalist Action Party (MHP) stood firm against the “solution process” for the Kurdish issue as well as “17-25 December Corruption Scandals”. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) entered the elections as a political party claiming to become a nationwide party rather than an ethnic regional party with a slogan of democracy for everybody.
It was definitely another crucial election for several other reasons. First, the authoritarian tendencies in law and practice, especially in the media increased societal tensions. Second, President Erdogan’s insistence on regime change from parliamentary to presidential negatively influenced the principle of the separation of powers in practice. Third, uncertainties about the future of the Kurdish issue and its “solution” process intermingled with the first two reasons. Besides, failures in economic policy objectives, foreign policy, and the lack of executive accountability also led to the question of “law and order” in public.
Even pro-government opinion research companies predicted that the AKP would not secure more than 43% of the votes and that the HDP would manage to pass the 10% nationwide threshold. The results brought about no single-party government alternatives: AKP secured 40,66%, CHP 25,13%, MHP 16,45%, and HDP 12,96%.
This picture triggered reactions from the President and Mr. Bahceli, the leader of MHP, indicating that “an early election” was highly probable. Mr. Bahceli also underlined that the nation offered them an opportunity to act as the main opposition party, and that the other side should form a coalition.
After the election day, there were several alternative government scenarios. These were based on numerical majority to secure a vote of confidence (276 seats). First, a grand coalition of the AKP and the CHP was considered to restore public order, eliminate polarization, and stabilize the economy and foreign policy. This alternative would also contribute to the solution of the Kurdish issue in a parliamentary setting. Second, the AKP and the MHP, which are basically supported by similar voters, collaborated in the recent past on the headscarf issue, the election of former President Gul, and the 2010 constitutional referendum. However, the MHP’s firm stance on the above mentioned issues would make this option less likely. Third, the AKP and the HDP, which carried out the process of “solution”, could form a government to continue its future efforts. By contrast, the HDP followed a different campaign strategy and severed its ties with the AKP. Moreover, the party underlined that “they would not let Mr. Erdogan be elected as president”. Furthermore, Mr. Demirtas, the leader of the HDP, expressed the view that they would not set up a coalition with the AKP and closed the door on this arrangement. Thus, this option automatically dropped.
Fourth, there was the possibility of another grand coalition composed of the CHP, the MHP and the HDP or the CHP, with the MHP being supported by the HDP from outside or with the CHP and the HDP being supported by the MHP from outside. Mr. Kılıçdaroglu, leader of the CHP, expressed the view that they might invite Mr. Bahceli to be prime minister in a future coalition of the anti-AKP block. Mr. Bahceli replied him: “Who are you that you propose my name as the new Prime Minister?” In fact, during the election of the speaker of the new Grand National Assembly of Turkey, both parties nominated separate candidates and the AKP candidate won the election against the opposition block. The MHP candidate was Mr. Ihsanoglu, who was nominated jointly by the CHP and the MHP for the last presidential election. This was the first breakup between the two parties. On the other hand, although the MHP and HDP received 80 seats in the elections and sit next to each other in the general assembly, the former considered the latter as the legal collaborator of the PKK terrorists; therefore, such options were also impossible in practice. Finally, a minority government would be formed by any of the political parties, but this option was not spelled out explicitly.
People said that President Erdogan was preoccupied with a single government alternative for personal objectives. On the other hand, Mr. Davutoglu regarded a coalition government as a serious option. But he was unable to develop a self-portrait leadership in the party. Therefore, it is not so critical to discuss why they failed to form a coalition government. The President wanted to call either a repeat election or force the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to take a decision on an early election. Since the latter was difficult for numerical reasons, he manipulated the first option by playing with the procedure.
The formation of a new government, following an announcement on the official election results by the Board, exposed an unusual process compared to former practices. Generally, the presidents of the Republic gave a prime minister-designate one week [to form a government] after the publication of the official election results. In fact, according to the Constitution,”… if a new Council of Ministers cannot be formed within forty-five days or fails to receive a vote of confidence, the President of the Republic, in consultation with the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, may decide to renew the election”.
However, President Erdogan tasked Mr. Davutoglu with forming the 63rd government of Turkey almost one month after the elections on July 9, kicking off the 45-day deadline. During this period and until the formation of the next government, the former government would remain in power as “acting” or “provisional” government and would be expected not to conduct important policies, except for extraordinary circumstances. It is argued that the President was not willing to approve a coalition government; therefore, he was reluctant to implement such “procedures”. In the meantime, the pro-government media systematically portrayed all coalition governments as evil.
Mr. Davutoglu started to visit political parties and enter into “exploratory” dialogues with the CHP and MHP. This was a “promising” process for the general public who suffered polarization in the hot summer. A dialogue committee between the AKP and the CHP held extensive meetings on the broader issues of Turkey for about a month. The final meeting between the leaders of the two parties took place on 13 August 2015 and Mr. Kılıcdaroglu stated that Mr. Davutoglu had offered a short-term interim election government, but not a long term coalition government. This was the biggest shock for many people, including the business sector. Afterwards, Erdogan spoke of the need for a strong rule and said that Davutoglu “would not commit suicide” if no coalition were formed.
On August 17, the AKP and MHP leaders came together to discuss the formation of a future government. This was a radical shift for Mr. Bahceli, who was initially opposed to becoming a coalition partner. During the talks, Mr. Bahceli underlined the “red lines” of the MHP once again: “to suspend the solution process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and related debates”; “adher to the current constitutional definition of Presidential powers”; and “to wage an effective fight against bribery and corruption, particularly with regard to corruption and graft claims that were revealed on December 17 and 25, 2013”.
Mr. Davutoglu stated: “I believe that I have tried all possible [means and stratagems]”. However, the general public was not satisfied with this statement. Especially opposition parties considered this period President Erdogan’s tactical maneuver to gain momentum and develop strategies to secure a majority in the parliament.
The CHP circles vociferously argued that they should been given the mandate to form a government as the second biggest party. President Erdogan replied: “I would not appoint anybody who does not know the address of the White Palace”. In fact, this was a reservation for future, too.
Then, the President held consultations with the speaker of the Assembly and called for renewing the elections on August 25. An interim government was formed by Mr. Davutoglu and was mainly composed of AKP deputies, senior civil servants, and two HDP deputies who resigned from ministerial posts later. The vote of confidence process for this government became very illustrative: If the AKP tries a similar scenario in the near future, it would definitely face a “difficult” situation. Although the AKP lost the majority in the parliament, it has been in power since the last elections. The less frequently mentioned minority government alternative has been tested silently and led to a greater legitimacy debate politically.
Since the 7 June elections, civil order in southeastern Turkey has deteriorated. There was an increase in civil disorder, as well as deaths and injuries related to separatist/terrorist activities. Syrian and Iraqi developments further exacerbated the situation. Electoral security became a primary consideration in some districts in the region. Local election committees or governors were requested to relocate polling stations to more secure places. Although this is an issue of the election day, according to the Law on Basic Principles of Elections and Electoral Registry, the Board is forced to make decisions on such fragile issues. Besides, there are several rumors about electoral fraud, the manipulation of voters, fake voters, etc.
Electoral security is the major duty of the Board, however, political parties and civil society representatives, including Vote and Beyond, also organized for electoral security. Briefly, electoral security is a primary consideration and many argue that if the current circumstances do not change, the elections may be postponed or cancelled as a result of the violation of some basic principles.
Moreover, the AKP and/or President Erdogan (although he does not play a legal part in election competition) seem to recover votes that were lost to the HDP and the MHP in the last election. In other words, the AKP’s major strategy is to keep the HDP below the 10% threshold first and recruit old/new voters by means of all possible ways. Most opinion polls show that the AKP and the CHP may increase the number of their votes by 2%, but neither can secure a majority in the parliament.
Currently, in light of public opinion polls and the public speeches of political leaders, they are open to coalition alternatives that are able to construct Turkey’s future politics. An AKP-CHP coalition is the best option; however, how the President and the CHP leadership shall accommodate such an option is a major dilemma. There is a second stronger alternative: An AKP-MHP coalition is highly likely as long as the AKP gets closer to a “hawk” policy on the Kurdish issue similar to the MHP. The current attitude of the AKP points to such an alternative. On the other hand, the AKP leadership and President Erdogan often state that they put the “solution process” into the refrigerator, but might serve it again in a different form. Third, a rising alternative is a CHP-HDP coalition. But this is dependent on two pre-conditions: first, the HDP should pass the 10% threshold, and then, the CHP can gain a victory of more than 30% of votes. Naturally, if the AKP does not secure a clear majority to form a single party government, President Erdogan may ask Mr. Davutoglu or another person to form an AKP minority government, which was, in fact, tested since the last election. Some people still argue whether the elections shall be conducted or not, which is another option.
Regardless of which option will be selected, it seems that Turkey needs to eliminate the 10% threshold to enable political parties to be represented fairly and equally. The impartiality of the state authorities in holding the elections is another point to be considered.
Photo source: http://www.efe.com/efe/english/world/negotiations-to-form-turkish-coalition-government-fail/50000262-2687830