This is what the June election turned up:
* 258 seats for the AKP.
* 132 seats for the main opposition Republican People’s Party or CHP.
* 80 seats for the right-wing, ultra-nationalist Turkish Nationalist Action Party or MHP.
* 80 seats for the Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party or HDP.
By all accounts, the election was a rare career loss for the current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was leader of the AKP till his move to the presidency less than a year ago. Despite the presidency being a largely ceremonial position, Erdogan has been active and interventionist in the job, openly stating his wish for Turkey to move to a presidential system of government where he would have executive powers of the kind seen in the Putin model of government. A victory for the AKP would have allowed this to happen by opening the gates for a constitutional rewriting.
Unsurprisingly then, the election results are being seen as a rejection of the authoritarianism that has marked Erdogan’s politics over the last few years.
Stocks take a beating
While the AKP’s electoral story is one of dismay, the big victory in this election belongs to the Kurdish HDP and its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas. The HDP managed to appeal to a broad coalition of voters, including those outside its core voter base. Many disaffected Turks who had in the past voted for the AKP or the secular Republican People’s Party voted tactically for the HDP in this election to reduce the AKP’s chance of getting a majority. This allowed the HDP to garner 13.1% of the vote share, which is above the 10% electoral threshold (one of the highest in the world) and gain a presence in parliament – a first for a Kurdish party.
The HDP’s victory is a significant pointer to the ways in which the Kurdish issue has evolved over the last few years under the AKP government from being an intractable problem to one that might have a political solution.
In Turkey’s history, hung parliaments and coalition governments have generally never fared well. It is hardly surprising that the morning the election results were announced Lira slumped against the dollar and stocks took a beating. A period of uncertainty now hangs over the nation which had till recently been an investor’s darling as the AKP pursued an aggressive neo-liberal agenda. Under Turkey’s constitution, the president can call for another election if the parties fail to form a government and receive a vote of confidence within 45 days. This is a scenario the AKP would be keen to avoid, since going back to the electorate might be a double-edged sword.
Period of uncertainty
As things stand, the most plausible coalition option is that of the AKP and the MHP. Both the CHP and HDP, the key opposition parties, are unlikely to agree to a coalition with the AKP for fear of alienating their own voter base.
The MHP has already raised preconditions for any coalition: it wants the Kurdish peace process to be jettisoned and wants corruption cases against certain AKP ministers to be reopened. If the alliance does become a reality, it would be a case of a good election result leading to a bad outcome. It will push Turkey to the right and erase years of progress made towards working out a political solution to the issue of Kurdish separatism. It’s an outcome that has repercussions not just for Turkey, but also across the border for Syria and Iraq, which too have large Kurdish populations.
Still, the situation on the ground a week after the election remains fluid and there might be another election before the year is out. What one can certainly say, however, is that it is likely that the AKP – a party that has had seen amazing growth, expansion and power for more than a decade – may now be in terminal decline. One of the key legacies of the AKP’s term in power was reducing the power of the military, which had a habit of stepping into the political sphere with alarming frequency and especially at moments of political chaos. As Turkey enters a period of uncertainty again, it is clear that there will be no military solution to the problem. Clearly, Turkey is now in unchartered waters. What direction she takes now will tell us a lot about where the country will be in future.