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Ruling AKP in Turkey Gets a Lifeline

Col Rajeev Agarwal is a former Research Fellow at IDSA and a research analyst on West Asia. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • November 05, 2015

    Setting the stage for a stable central government for the next four years, the November 01 parliamentary elections in Turkey threw up a big surprise when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) regained the majority it had lost in the previous election held in June 2015. According to the results announced by the official Anadolu Agency, the AKP won 49.49 per cent of the vote while the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), got 25.31 per cent vote. Coming at the end of a bitter election campaign and a stalemated result in June 2015, the results of the November election definitely came as a shot in the arm for the AKP and its chief architect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, giving them an indisputable mandate to govern and prepare the ground for implementation of various policies that have often been alleged to be authoritarian, promoting a religious agenda and sharpening social divisions in the society.

    Rejoicing in the electoral victory, the Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu while addressing the supporters said "Today is a victory for our democracy and our people ... Hopefully we will serve you well for the next four years and stand in front of you once again in 2019". The President who this time (unlike in the June elections) had kept himself away from public appearances and rallies, exclaimed that the electorate had "given proof of their strong desire for the unity and integrity of Turkey”. While the elections have ensured absolute majority for the AKP by giving it 317 seats in the 550-member Parliament, it fell 13 seats short of the number needed to call for a referendum on reframing the constitution and increasing the powers of the President. Also, despite the overwhelming majority of the AKP, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a party grounded in ethnic Kurdish nationalism and often associated with the rebel Kurdish movement, made it to the Parliament by getting the mandatory 10 per cent of votes; it won 10.76 per cent votes, giving it 59 parliamentary seats.

    Earlier in the year, the results of the parliamentary elections held in June had thrown up a rude shock for the ruling AKP when its vote share dipped to 41 per cent, the lowest ever since it came to power in 2002, while other opposition parties fared better. The left-leaning CHP got 25 per cent of the votes, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) boosted its tally from 13 per cent to over 16 per cent and the Kurdish nationalist Peoples's Democratic Party (HDP) doubled its previous tally winning 13 per cent of the seats. With no prospect of parties coming forward to form a coalition government, President Erdogan had called for a snap re-election.

    The victory for the AKP comes at a critical juncture and as some analysts have stated, possibly at great cost to the cohesion of Turkish society. In the run-up to the elections, the AKP whipped up a strong nationalist agenda, often called divisive, to woo the voters and by calling its opponents especially the Kurds as terrorists or traitors polarising the country. There were two terrorist attacks in the run-up to the elections- a bomb attack in the town of Suruc on July 20 which killed nearly 30 people and another much closer to the elections in the capital Ankara on October 10, where nearly 95 people were killed and around 250 wounded in the deadliest terror attack in the history of Turkey. This resulted in government crackdown on terror, which too seemed to have helped muster crucial votes for the ruling party.

    Now that the elections are passé, the AKP Government needs to regroup and set on course its agenda for the next four years. One of the foremost things that need to be done is to send out a strong message of national peace and reconciliation. The past one year has been a period of great unrest and resentment in the country with the government being blamed for stirring up religious intolerance, restricting free speech and putting into jail hundreds of journalists. The collapse of the ceasefire with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), the rebel Kurdish outfit, after it attacked and killed two Turkish police officers in the city of Urfa on July 22, as also display of streaks of authoritarianism, especially after election of President Erdogan last year, has added to the insecure atmosphere in the country. The economy too has slowed down, and from the highs of nine percent growth only a few years back the economic growth is presently pegged at around three to four per cent. Then there is the issue of turmoil and unrest along its borders too, especially in view of the ongoing Syrian crisis.

    As it sets course, one of the issues which is likely to dominate the discourse in the AKP is the reframing of the constitution which would usher in a presidential form of government giving Erdogan the executive control over governance once again. With 13 seats short of a two-third majority to call for a referendum on the new constitution, the AKP will have to look for support from other parties. One of the options could be the pro-Kurdish HDP which has entered the Parliament with 59 seats. The AKP had initiated a peace process with PKK, the outlawed Kurdish movement, in 2012 and could revive it again as a quid-pro-quo for support in the Parliament. HDP, however, will be loath to support amendments to the constitution that would usher in a presidential system of government. Alternatively, the AKP may depend on defections from the other two parties in the Parliament to reach the figure of 330 seats which will enable it to pass a resolution to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments.

    The AKP needs to go over the fundamentals of its decade long success in the country before it charts its future course. Its success in the previous decade was built on the pillars of national consolidation, economic growth and religious tolerance. Its policy of “Zero Problems with Neighbours” too perhaps needs to be implemented in true spirit. Turkey is also a key US ally in the region and a crucial front in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). It shares borders with Syria and hosts more Syrian refugees than any other nation in the world and is therefore an important player in efforts to find solution to the Syrian crisis too.

    The Turkish electorate has made its decision clear. The choice was between continuing instability and a party which had shown promise in the past and delivered too. Election results have also underscored the weakness of Turkey's opposition parties to rally a national mandate due to lack of common agenda. The AKP has therefore got a crucial lifeline which it needs to nurture. Perhaps the rude shock of the June elections will rein in some of the controversial policies of the government.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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