Political fallout from Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Turkey will have dramatic effects on this country’s internal and regional policies. The electorate snubbed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party for the first time in more than 12 years, curtailing the dominance of Justice and development Party (AK party) in the Parliament and in effect derailing Erdogan’s ambitions to rewrite the constitution and change Turkey’s political system.
The AK party remains the country’s largest party, but it has failed to win enough seats to stay in power. It will have to form a coalition government or, failing to do so, President Erdogan will have to call for early elections before the end of this year.
Needless to say elections results have stunned Erdogan and his supporters, sending a message that the electorate has become weary of AK party’s dominance and the president’s style of government. One of the major game changers has been the economy, which has been slowing at alarming rates in the last few years; the country grew by almost seven percent a year between 2002 and 2007 but averaging roughly three percent since 2012. But that is not all. Analysts believe that the Turkish public has grown impatient with Turkey’s foreign policy, especially concerning the Syrian conflict. Erdogan is one of the bitter enemies of President Bashar Assad and he has made Turkey’s participation in the international coalition fighting the militants conditional to toppling the Syrian regime.
Still Ankara has been accused of allowing tens of thousands of foreign fighters to cross the porous borders with Syria. Arab critics of Erdogan say he is seeking to extend Turkey’s influence in Syria and of reviving Ottoman hegemony in the region.
While Erdogan has risen to power through democratic means, his opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, even dictatorship, and of conspiring to end Turkey’s secular heritage. His party relies mainly on the support of religious voters, especially in the countryside, but Erdogan has built an intricate network of allies among the country’s conservative business community and ambitious politicians. But in the past two years opposition to the AK party began to rise, especially among the youth, reaching a boiling point in 2012. Erdogan has been criticized of intimidating his critics and of sending tens of journalists who disagree with him to prison. The latest upset could end the career of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who is party leader.
Erdogan achieved a decisive win last year when he was elected president, but his plans to change Turkey’s political system from parliamentary to presidential only bolstered the opposition particularly secular, liberal and nationalist parties. The biggest winner in this week’s election was the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which for the first time captured more than the 10 percent of the vote needed to enter Parliament. It is believed that many non-Kurdish voters, especially liberals, had sided with HDP as a way of sending a message of discontent to the ruling AK party.
So far the three main opposition parties, including the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have ruled out the possibility of a coalition. One thing is clear now; Turkey will witness a tense phase of political instability and economic uncertainty until a new election is held or a narrow majority government is formed.
This article by Osama Al Sharif originally appeared in Arab News