Turkey’s AK party vying for coalition partners

With no party securing a single majority in parliament, the ruling AK party seeks coalition partners.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) has given AK party leader Ahmet Davutoglu the mandate to form the government [Getty]

One month after the June 7 elections in Turkey, a government is yet to be formed.

The Justice and Development party (AK), which lost its single majority in parliament for the first time since it took power in 2002, has been engaged in lengthy talks on coalition options.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave Ahmet Davutoglu, leader the AK party, the mandate to form a government. This week, Davutoglu is expected to meet with the leaders of three other parties to discuss their conditions to join an AK party-led coalition government.

The AK party’s options, according to several observers, are limited and will likely face an impasse. Having secured 132 seats of 550, the  leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, does not rule out a “grand coalition” with the AK party, but his conditions are hard to meet for the ruling party.

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In an interview, Kilicdaroglu told the Turkish daily Milliyet that “politics is an art of conciliation. If we are here to defend the interest of the people – not of some individuals – then we have overlapping views”. Last week, CHP announced its “14 principles” declaration in which they listed the conditions to join a coalition with the AK party.

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With an emphasis on safeguarding personal rights and freedoms, the declaration also stressed the limits of presidential authority. “Pulling the presidency into the constitutional boundaries is one of our main principles. More, it is unacceptable for him [Erdogan] to appear as a primary actor at a time where coalition talks are going on,” Kilicdaroglu told the press .

According to Fuat Keyman, a professor at the Sabanci University’s international relations department, it is very difficult to form an AK party-CHP coalition.

“These two parties stand at the two distinct edges of the political spectrum, representing two different identities, and understanding of politics and lifestyles,” Keyman said.

“But the CHP carried Turkey’s modernisation forward for a long time and the AK party has become the main actor behind the country’s transformation in the last two decades. Their decision to join their forces would be of great benefit for Turkey: A ‘problem solving’ coalition’,” Keyman added.

However, forming such a coalition would not be an easy task. In addition to the CHP’s animosity towards Erdogan, the party’s election promises could be a hard issue to tackle.

Historically, when parties with similar social and political backgrounds form a coalition government, it is the bigger party that benefits from it and the small party that loses.

by Recai Coskun, professor, Sakarya University

For Oral Calislar, a political analyst at Radikal, a left-leaning news website, the discourse about “bringing those who are responsible [for corruption] to justice” was a key point of CHP’s election manifesto. Referring to the notorious corruption probes  in December 2013, Calislar told Al Jazeera that “the AK party would bring this [Kilicdaroglu’s words] on the table when negotiating with the CHP”.

“The same applies the other way around, but they have to find a ground for consensus,” Calislar noted.

The AK party’s second option is to approach the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which secured 80 seats.

This option, however, appears to be less likely compared to “a grand coalition” with CHP; but Davutoglu reiterated that the MHP is one of the two main parties that they [AK] want to carry the coalition talks forward. 

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli’s remarks were not that positive. Since the election day, Bahceli set tough conditions for joining forces with the AK party and clearly positioned his own party on the opposition side.

According to Recai Coskun, professor at Sakarya University and a long-time MHP observer, an AK party-MHP coalition is less likely compared to one with the CHP for two reasons: “Historically, when parties with similar social and political backgrounds form a coalition government, it is the bigger party that benefits from it and the small party that loses,” Coskun told Al Jazeera.

Both parties appeal to conservative and religiously sensitive electorate. During the election campaigning period, Erdogan – as president – gradually increased his nationalist tone, potentially seeking votes from the MHP’s base for his former AK party.

“Secondly, the ‘resolution process‘ [also the peace process to end the decades-old Kurdish conflict] and Erdogan’s presidential ambitions are other elements that would make it very difficult for the MHP to approach the AK party,” Coskun added. The MHP is staunchly against the “resolution process” and defines it as a ” dissolution process“.

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Nevertheless, pro-government daily Yeni Safak commentator Atilla Yayla argued that although a coalition between the AK party and MHP is very difficult to materialise compared to an AK party-CHP government, its chances of survival are higher than the latter.

“In politics, toughest-looking politicians could be the ones that reconcile easily while the ones that show signs of conciliation could become impossible to agree with,” Yayla told Al Jazeera. “I believe an AK party-CHP coalition is more likely, but the AK party and MHP’s shared electorate bases could be an advantage to come up with consensus.”

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish HDP, declared that they are not interested to form a coalition with AK party [Reuters]
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish HDP, declared that they are not interested to form a coalition with AK party [Reuters]

With the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) disinterest to join together with the AK party, and the improbability of forming a coalition with all the three opposition parties, some analysts believe that Erdogan’s reluctance to give Davutoglu the mandate to form a government and his “sit back and watch” attitude is a tactic to drag the country into a re-election.

According to Mustafa Akyol at Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan, unhappy with the results, wants to postpone the initiation of the coalition talks as an attrition tactic, aiming to solidify the division within the opposition parties that were already present in the aftermath of the election.

Should no government be formed in 45 days after tasking Davutoglu with finding a coalition partner, Erdogan could call for a re-election invoking his presidential authority.

The president and MHP leader Bahceli have already mentioned that re-election might take place in November.Though none of the parties hope for such an outcome, the option is not entirely ruled out.

Considering the lengthy election campaigning period and pressing issues such as economic downturn, the direction of the “resolution process”, the need to find a viable accommodation and integration to some two million Syrian refugees in the country, and the rising threat  of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the south, a re-election in November, analysts concluded, would mean another six months without a government in Turkey in an environment of increasing instability.

Follow Cagri Ozdemir on Twitter: @cgrozdemir

Source: Al Jazeera