Turkey’s Inconclusive Vote

Turkey’s Inconclusive VoteTurkey’s Inconclusive Vote

For the first time this century, Turkey is waking up the day after a general election without knowing who will form its next government.

In Sunday’s vote, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the parliamentary majority it had held since 2002, though for the fourth successive election, the ruling party won the most votes and seats.

The outcome may force Turks back to the ballot box for a repeat vote; plunge the country into the kind of coalition bargaining that was once a standard post-election feature, or keep Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in power but vulnerable to a legislature he no longer controls.

And, to make matters harder for investors who prefer political clarity, it may not be clear for weeks which of these scenarios will unfold, if any. The lira slid to a record low against the dollar in the early hours of Monday as the vote count neared its end. The following are some of the possible permutations for the coming weeks, Bloomberg reported.

 Another Election

Under Turkey’s constitution, the president can call another election if parties fail to form a government with a majority within 45 days of an election. It’s unclear whether Erdogan would prefer to do so.

Erdogan led the AKP and the country as prime minister for more than a decade before his elevation to presidency last year. Sunday’s results are a setback for his goal of expanding the powers of his new post, which requires changes to the constitution that can only be made with a large majority in parliament.

Erdogan had flouted the traditional neutrality of the presidency to lend support to the AKP campaign, in the hope that it could achieve such a majority. The strategy didn’t work, and there’s no guarantee it would work any better in a second election.

However, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has played down talks of fresh election. “I believe our prime minister will be able to form the government within the allotted time,” Kurtulmus told reporters in Ankara, according to Today’s Zaman.

The Nationalist MHP, seen as the most likely partners, has called for early elections if no coalition can be formed within the necessary 45 days.

 AKP Minority Government

There are precedents in Turkey and other parliamentary democracies for governments that don’t command a majority in the legislature. A minority administration can continue by forming ad-hoc alliances to win specific votes, or persuading other parties to agree not to topple it even if they don’t want to join it in a coalition.

The initial hurdle for an AKP minority government would be to win a vote of confidence, when all the other parties have campaigned on promises of driving it out of office. A minority administration is “the most likely scenario” though it would probably lead to another election within the next year-and-a-half or so, Credit Suisse said in a report late Sunday.

 AKP-Nationalist Coalition

The second-biggest opposition party in parliament, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has some common ground with the AKP: Both groups attract voters from Muslim backgrounds as well as poorer parts of the country, and they share a suspicious stance toward Turkey’s western allies.

The Nationalists were last in government as part of the coalition routed by the AKP in 2002. Leader Devlet Bahceli poured cold water on the prospects of joining a coalition in his first post-election comments, saying that his party was ready to serve in opposition if others made a deal, and that a repeat election was the best outcome if they didn’t. Still, he didn’t explicitly rule it out.

Today’s Zaman quoted him saying, “The first possibility for a coalition should be between the AKP and [pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party] HDP. The second model can consist of AKP, [main opposition Republican People’s Party] CHP and HDP. “If all these scenarios fail, then early elections must be held.”

He also said, “Nobody has the right to sentence Turkey to an AKP minority government. Whenever there can be early elections, let them take place.”

Among many obstacles to an AKP-Nationalist alliance, the biggest would be the Kurdish question. One of Erdogan and Davutoglu’s flagship policies is the pursuit of a breakthrough peace accord with Kurdish separatists, who have been fighting for autonomy for three decades.

Hurriyet commentator, Serkan Demirtas, also sees a deal between the AKP and the MHP as the most likely scenario, but this could fall short of a formal coalition.

“A very critical period of 45 days will await us in which the ruling party has to conduct tough negotiations with a potential partner. Both the CHP and HDP have already declared that they won’t enter any partnership with the AKP in the government.

“In this regard, Davutoglu could launch a negotiation process with MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, but a coalition protocol will not be easy given the latter’s strong opposition to Erdogan’s interventions in governmental affairs. For example, it would be a huge concession on Bahceli’s part if he agrees to go to the grandiose presidential palace to attend a cabinet meeting under Erdogan’s leadership.

“One option is that the MHP could support a minority government to be formed by the AKP on strict conditions and with the prospect of taking the country to early polls.

 AKP-Kurdish Coalition

The election’s big winner was the HDP, which won seats in parliament by passing the nationwide 10 percent threshold for the first time.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas ruled out any coalition with the AKP late on Sunday while votes were still being counted. Still, the AKP has been more accommodating to the Kurdish agenda than past Turkish governments or the main opposition groups.

“We have promised our people that we would not form an internal or external coalition with the AKP. We are clear on that,” Demirtas said in a press conference.

 Other Coalitions

The AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party aren’t seen as likely to collaborate. Hostility between the Nationalists and Kurds rules out a tripartite coalition of the three opposition groups that won seats, even though they could theoretically muster enough seats to govern.