Clock ticks as Turkey struggles to form coalition government
Nearly twelve weeks after Turkey’s 7 June general elections robbed the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) of its overall majority, the AKP cabinet still runs the country. The main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP (Republican Peoples Party) waits to see if he will be given a chance to form a coalition government.
Time for him to do so is running out. On Sunday, the time limit for setting up a government after the elections runs out. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s strong man president, will then have the right to order a dissolution of the National Assembly and hold a second set of general elections this autumn.
On Monday evening this week, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s acting prime minister, announced that a final round of negotiations with the ultra-nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party) had failed. The previous week, he had also pronounced month long-negotiations with the CHP for a grand coalition dead. The pace of negotiations had been leisurely to say the least. Davutoğlu held only five meetings over the month with the CHP leadership.
Davutoğlu says he does not want to leave Turkey without a government. He, and President Erdoğan (who is in theory a non-party head of state) but in practice now functions as an executive president, seem to hope that early elections would restore the AKP’s majority and enable it to resume a programme of building a monolithic presidential system in Turkey in which parliament’s role would be reduced.
Before the June general election, President Erdoğan repeatedly called for the voters to give him 400 seats and a two thirds majority in the 550-member National Assembly. In the event, the electorate rejected this call. The AKP’s share of the vote fell from 49.9% in 2011 to 40.9% as about 3.4 million of its former votes went to other parties.
Many Turks suspect that the change at least partly reflected reaction to President Erdoğan’s tough speeches and calls to the voters to give him seemingly unlimited executive power.
But the AKP does not see the vote as a rejection. It blames its setback at the last polls on the fact that a fourth party, the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples Democracy Party), entered parliament with 13% of the votes, winning 80 seats, 14 provinces in eastern Turkey and 13% of the vote nationally, taking six million votes. The majority of its supporters seem to have been former AKP voters among the Kurds.
President Erdoğan explained this to voters at a rally on 15 August. “They lost their minds and went so far as to vote for the terrorist organization. We will teach them a lesson together,” he said, implying that he considers the HDP terrorist, despite its calls for an end to violence and condemnation of terrorist attacks by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the militant organization fighting for Kurdish autonomy since 1984.
Erdoğan’s words are not to be taken lightly. He has started preliminary moves for a prosecution of the HDP’s charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtaş on terrorist charges.
Many observers in Turkey believe Erdoğan’s aim is to either discredit the HDP or exclude it from the next elections so ensuring that the elections return a three-party with an AKP majority.
It is against this somber background that Turkey’s party leaders now plan their strategy. The AKP seems to pay little regard to usual parliamentary traditions. On Monday Davutoğlu, declined to say that the task of forming a new government now devolved on the leader of the next largest party Instead he declared that “he might hand back his mandate to form a government, if required.” The words produced an outcry from opposition figures.
So too did an earlier call from President Erdoğan. On 14 August, he told a meeting that “There is a president with de facto power in the country, not a symbolic one … Turkey’s administrative system has changed. What should now be done is to update this de facto situation in terms of the legal framework of the constitution.”
He now hopes that the voters, having rebuffed him once in June will not do so a second time. His hope this time is that the war he launched against the PKK on 25 July will win additional conservative voters over to his side.
The polls however indicate that the voters still stand more or less where they were in June. One opinion polls even says the AKP vote could drop well below 40% perhaps as far as down as 35%.
The mood in the country does seem to be changing. At the funeral last Friday in the highly conservative province of Kirikkale of a soldier murdered by the PPK in eastern Turkey, the crowd of mourners unprecedentedly booed a deputy prime minister taking part and yelled “AKP Murderer.” Other worries for the AKP include a collapsing currency because Erdoğan does not believe in hiking interest rates and a slide in tourism.
Yet most observers think that despite the risks President Erdoğan will order early elections after he becomes able to do so next Sunday and will step up his fiery speeches this autumn in an all-out attempt to regain his crumbling support base.
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