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Coalition or snap poll: What next for Turkey?

Bulent Kilic, AFP | The June 7 elections in Turkey has changed the political landscape after 13 years of AKP self-rule

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP suffered a stunning defeat in the latest parliamentary poll with the party losing its absolute majority for the first time in 13 years. The question now is whether it can hold on to power.

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Turkey’s once unstoppable party has slid to an historic new low with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) securing just 40.8 percent of the vote in Sunday's election – 10 percentage points less than in the 2011 elections.

Although still projected to scoop up 258 places in the 550-seat parliament, the Islamic-rooted party fell 18 seats short of the threshold needed to rule on its own.

It was a bitter setback. Not just for the AKP, but also for Erdogan whose hopes of changing the constitution to enshrine a presidential rather than a parliamentary system were completely dashed – especially after the Turkish strongman led a vigorous campaign for his party ahead of the vote.

“On Sunday night, some of his supporters accused him of having been too involved in the campaign,” said FRANCE 24’s Turkey correspondent Fatma Kizilboga, noting the president had turned the ballot into a referendum about himself. “The Turks seem to have voted against a presidential system, where a president like Erdogan would have had all the powers.”

No easy task to find a coalition partner

In the days and weeks to come, Turkish politicians are likely to be engaged in frantic backroom negotiations with the ruling party having to charm its rivals to find an alliance partner. Depending on how well the negotiations turn out, there are several scenarios for Turkey’s political future.

“Either two of the four parties in parliament come to an agreement and a coalition government is formed, or, if that doesn’t happen, we’ll be looking at snap elections,” said Kizilboga.

If a coalition is not formed within a 45 days, a snap vote will have to be called.

Judging by AKP’s post-election statements however, a coalition seems to be out of the question. But on the other hand, the three other parties now have enough seats to form a coalition on their own.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed the latter as a viable option on Sunday evening, reiterating that the AKP still won the election with 40 percent of the vote. “This election has again showed that the AKP is the backbone of this country,” he told supporters at a rally. “We still have great days ahead of us.”

“There are a lot of meetings planned in the next few days to decide on their strategy,” said Kizilboga, referring to the party’s frantic attempts to either lure a reluctant opponent to the table or attempt to rule alone as a parliamentary minority.

Dorothée Schmid, of the Paris-based Institut Français des relations internationals (IFRI), noted that “it’s far from obvious for the AKP to stay in power after such an election shock. Especially since all the other parties have staged such anti-AKP campaigns.”

Schmid said the question is whether “the AKP, in this position of weakness vis-à-vis its rivals, is really capable of conducting intelligent negotiations and bringing about a stable solution. It’s not at all obvious”.

She added that if it comes to a snap election, AKP is not necessarily guaranteed better results.

A new political landscape

The political uncertainty swiftly left its mark on the Turkish financial market where both stocks and lira plunged shortly after the opening bell. Erdogan responded by urging the political parties to call for calm.

The election results also added a new dimension to Turkish politics with the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) entering parliament for the first time with 13.1 percent and a total of 80 seats. Led by the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas -- sometimes called “the Kurdish Obama” – the left-wing party also gained traction among other minorities as well as gender and gay rights supporters.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, Jean Marcou, an expert on Turkish politics at Sciences Po in Grenoble, said that “over the years they [the HDP] have become a part of the Turkish political system, and it’s not just about pushing the Kurdish [independence] issue anymore”.

According to Schmid, the HDP had been intelligent and professional on the campaign trail by focusing on minority rights and social justice. “They raised the bar for the other parties. They were very aware of their electorate and went on to the field to collect votes, something which only the AKP has done until now,” she said.

But, Schmid noted, it remains to be seen whether the leftist, pro-Kurdish party will “for the first time be able to anchor a left-wing party in the Turkish political landscape.”
 

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