Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

Analysis

Erdogan down but not out

  • Many Turks do not want Turkey to become a one man show (Photo: akparti.org.tr)

The pollsters were right.

Most of Turkey’s polling companies predicted a defeat for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a resounding victory for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Selahattin Demirtas.

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Still, the AKP came out as the biggest party by far with 41% of the votes (down from 50% in 2011) while the HDP indeed managed to jump over the 10% threshold with 13%.

The AKP, in power since the end of 2002, was punished for making a shift to a Turkish style presidential system - without real checks and balances - the centrepiece of its election campaign.

It is what Erdogan desperately wants but most Turks, including parts of the AKP electorate, prefer to stick to their parliamentary system.

They simply do not want Turkey to become a one-man show.

Other factors that added to the AKP loss were the sluggish economy, and rising worries about Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies.

The HDP was rewarded for its decision to challenge the highest electoral threshold in Europe and for opening up beyond its traditional core of nationalist Kurdish voters to a wider electorate of Turkish leftists and liberals.

Besides, the charismatic Demirtas was also able to convince many conservative Kurds who used to vote for the AKP but have become unhappy with Erdogan dragging his feet on a solution for the Kurdish problem, to switch to his party.

Erdogan’s loss

Most observers agree that the AKP’s defeat is in fact Erdogan’s loss. The problem is that the president was elected last year for a 5-year term and has no intention of stepping down.

Speculation on what should happen now depends largely on Erdogan. Although according to the constitution he should act as a non-partisan president, the election campaign showed that he has no appetite for sticking to that rule.

He is still the dominant player inside the AKP and his decisions will be crucial. Will he blame the loss of 4 million voters on PM Davutoglu and replace him with a new figurehead?

Does Erdogan want the AKP to form a minority government that has to make a deal on each important dossier with one of the opposition parties?

Or is he willing to facilitate a coalition government, most likely with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)? Or, as many fear, will he block every constructive effort by the parties in parliament to form a government - they have 45 days to do so - and call for new elections after that period?

He might want to try his luck and that of his party one more time because he does not want to be a lame duck president who might end up one day, once out of office, before a Turkish court accused of corruption and abuse of power.

What should the EU do?

Amid all that uncertainty, what should the EU do?

Should it welcome the election result as an expression of the vitality of Turkey’s democracy – which it certainly is – and re-energise the accession process by opening up some new chapters that focus on democracy and rule of law?

That would be the most sympathetic reaction. And it would welcomed by Turkish democrats.

It is unfortunately likely that Brussels will want to wait and see what happens next.

In fact, the outcome of Sunday’s vote could be a coalition administration of AKP and MHP, the most eurosceptic and anti-Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament. This could lead to the blocking of any further EU-required reforms and could derail the already shaky Kurdish settlement process.

Turkey’s voters have shown they do not want Turkey to become a state ruled by one man, slowly shifting away from Europe. Brussels’ reward for that courageous decision, however, will most probably have to wait until the dust has settled.

Joost Lagendijk is a former member of the European Parliament who lives in Turkey and is now a columnist for Turkish dailies Zaman and Today’s Zaman.

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