Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been at the forefront of Turkish politics for more than a decade, but now his Justice and Development Party (AKP) is recovering from an election that left their grip on power weakened. For Erdogan and the party that he co-founded, it was the worst election to date. In the week preceding the election, Mr. Erdogan’s public speeches were broadcast for a total of 44 hours on Turkish television. However, the night after the results came through, the President was nowhere to be seen.
The once-unstoppable party lost its majority after 13 years and is now struggling to form a government. It may form a coalition with the nationalist MH Party, or it might alternatively try to form an unstable minority government.
The election has also interfered with Mr Erdogan’s plans to turn Turkey into a presidential state and give himself more power. After serving as prime minister for 11 years, in August 2014, he became Turkey’s first directly-elected president, which in reality is a largely ceremonial role.
President Erdogan has gotten into altercations with some powerful individuals, such as the heads of the strictly secular armed forces, and Fetullah Gulen (a US-based Islamic scholar and former supporter of Mr. Erdogan who currently runs a very large network of followers).
The results of the election show that the majority of Turkish people do not want Erdogan to gain executive powers by changing the constitution of Turkey and shifting to a presidential system. It also shows that the Turkish people have become frustrated with the AKP. The HD Party (HDP), however, has benefited as the AKP loses the votes of conservative Kurdish citizens to them. The HDP’s entrance was a main factor in AKP’s failure to win the majority it needed to call a national referendum and change the constitution.
The HDP was formed from a union of smaller pro-Kurdish political groups in 2012. Because of Turkey’s electoral rules, that require a party to secure 10% of votes to enter parliament, the HDP had previously made their candidates run independently, in order to skirt around these rules while still gaining political power. Now that they have increased popularity and a wider base of support, they chose a unified run in this election. The first real election of the HDP was a risk, as they were not certain of crossing the 10% parliamentary threshold. However, it paid off and they won 13% of the vote with 80 MPs.
Historically, as a result of the three-decade conflict with the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that claimed forty thousand lives, groups even somewhat associated with the Kurdish movement tend to be seen either as terrorist organisations or supporters of terrorism. The PKK itself is categorised a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US. This has been a factor in the HDP not gaining enough votes to enter parliament in the past.
The HDP have now broadened their appeal beyond the Kurdish minority, with both male and female leaders, illustrating the party’s commitment to equality of the sexes. They have drawn in more secular Turks, who are attracted to their promotion of environmental issues and LGBT rights, and they have Turkey’s first and only openly gay candidate. They have also attracted opponents of Mr. Erdogan who decided to vote tactically against him.
Female HDP candidates only pay half the fee to run for office that their male counterparts do. The Guardian reports that the HDP is also considering establishing a ministry for women. About 40% of the newly elected MPs of the HDP are women, a high percentage compared to that in the parliament as a whole, where only 17% of MPs are women.
Another factor possibly contributing to this outcome is that a HDP rally in Diyarbakir was actually attacked, with two explosions resulting in four dead and 400 injured. There is a widespread feeling the incident will only embolden the party’s supporters in this crucial election, says BBC correspondent Mark Lowen.
With the HDP having definitively entered parliament, the Kurds now have a louder and more significant voice on the national stage, making the possibility of lasting peace in Turkey’s south-east more likely.
However, no party has won a majority, so a coalition seems to be necessary. A government must be formed in 45 days after the final results are announced or a new election will be held. The formation of a coalition and resultant potential political instability will lead to a focus on domestic (rather than foreign) policy issues, at least for some time.
“If the AKP is either forced out of office or again fails to win a majority in fresh elections, Turkey’s much-criticised policy of supporting Islamist factions in the Middle East could change, and the country may take a more pro-Western approach, particularly if the major government player is the [centre-left] CHP.” – Sinan Ulgen
The AKP’s defeated ideal of having ‘zero problems with neighbours’ has been mocked by critics, who say it seems as if they have ‘zero neighbours without problems’ – relations with Israel, Egypt and Iran have worsened, as well as those with the United States, which has not had the best of relationships with President Erdogan.
On 8 June, the day after the election, the Turkish currency fell to near-record lows against the dollar, and shares dropped by more than 8% soon after the Istanbul stock exchange opened. The interest rate on foreign currency deposits were quickly cut by the central bank in order to prop up the lira.
This could be a new political era in Turkey. The AKP has still won this election, with over 40% of the vote, and it still has a large power base, consisting mainly of the more religious, conservative Turks, who feel that the party and President Erdogan have liberated them. But the AKP’s dominance, the one-man political show that has played out in Turkey for 13 years and divided it, has just taken a hit.