Since becoming Prime Minister in 2000, now-President Recep Erdogan has consolidated power and led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a 13-year majority position in the Parliament. Yesterday, however, they got 41% of the vote, and failed to achieve an outright majority. The reasons, implications and uncertainties this raises are very important. How Erdogan and other political leaders in Turkey react in coming days will either prove the hope that Turkey is a bulwark against extremism and for modern inclusive development, or add to the region’s instability and insecurity. Choices matter.
Now, within 45 days Prime Minister Davutoglu (AKP) must form a coalition or a minority government able to win a confidence vote in the Parliament. If that fails, early elections will have to be called and then held within 90 days. This process will be neither smooth nor certain; the negotiations be tough and will extract concessions. Ironically, President Erdogan has been courting Turkey’s Kurdish population, but the party with which they identify, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), surged in opposition to him and beat the 10% threshold needed take seats in Parliament for the first time. The Kurds are ecstatic, for now. They also say they will not be part of any AKP coalition, as do the other opposition parties.
Erdogan’s adversary, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) party, appears to have won at least 25 percent. Still, the AKP could perhaps form a coalition with its somewhat more like-minded MHP party (which does not support Erdogan’s efforts to expand Presidential power), but MHP opposes peace with Kurdish militants, so the HDP would not sit quietly by. A coalition that does not include the AKP technically might be formed if AKP fails, but it is unlikely that AKP would allow that result. AKP’s best bet may be to try to form a minority government with ad hoc opposition members, but it would take major political concessions to get there.
The high 86 percent voter turnout was to Mr. Erdogan a sign of Turkey’s “determination for democracy.” We must hope that his determination, and those of other political groups and leaders is also strong. In recent years, Mr. Erdogan had led Turkey, one of the original members of the OECD and the Council of Europe, and a NATO member since 1952, in a worrisome direction of fewer checks and balances, and more limited freedoms, while he also sought constitution change to increase Presidential powers. At the same time, despite recent stagnation, Turkey’s economy and middle class grew rapidly in the earlier years of Mr. Erdogan’s tenure, and Turkey’s stability and moderation were often touted internationally. Today, Turkish stocks and currency fell fast and hard and its long-term bond prices spiked. Foreign investors already had been shying away, but Turkey’s complex, uncertain situation presents serious new risks for economic and political stability in Turkey and surrounding regions, including Europe.
Mr. Erdogan’s Presidential web site features this statement: “In this new period, it carries great importance for all political parties to show the necessary sensibility—to act responsibly—to protect the democratic gains, the environment of stability and trust in our country.” Political leaders in Turkey and elsewhere had better encourage and act to ensure that is the case, so that growth, investment, stability and productive engagement can again be watchwords for Turkey. Otherwise, all bets are off.