ErdoIan’s second chance

The outcome of Turkeyand’s latest general election — voters have gone to the polls twice in the last five months — reveals an important insight into the nature of the countryand’s democracy and the preferences of its citizens.
The first of Turkeyand’s two parliamentary elections in June of this year was widely viewed as a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s efforts to strengthen the powers of his office. The result was clear Erdoganand’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) received just 41 percent of the vote, costing it the majority it had enjoyed since coming to power in 2002.
On Nov. 1, however, after the negotiations that followed the June election resulted in a hung parliament, Turkey voted again and the outcome could not have been more different. This time, the election was predominantly perceived as a referendum on the continuation of single-party rule and the AKP won 49 percent of the vote, providing it with a comfortable majority.
In the run-up to the latest election, Erdogan and the AKP emphasized the importance of the partyand’s parliamentary majority for Turkeyand’s political stability. The opposition argued that a coalition government would counter the countryand’s deep political polarization, whilst helping to establish stronger checks and balances. The promise of stability proved to be the more resonant message.
The political instability that followed Juneand’s inconclusive election was compounded by a sharp decline in domestic and regional security. A renewed campaign of violence by the separatist Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK) and attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including the recent suicide bombings in Ankara that killed more than 100 people, created a backdrop that reinforced the AKPand’s message.
The outcome of the vote attests to the ineffectiveness of Turkeyand’s parliamentary opposition, which once again failed to make a dent in the AKPand’s popularity, almost as if they had set out to disprove the theory that electorates simply tire of long-serving governments.
Instead, the AKP obtained a landslide victory — a major achievement after 13 years of uninterrupted rule — by siphoning voters from its competitors. The party received nearly 5 million more votes than it did in June, corresponding to a 20 percent increase in popularity. Two opposition parties, the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the predominantly Kurdish Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP), lost 3 million votes combined, while the center-left Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) held its ground, finishing second with 25 percent of the vote.
Voters punished the nationalist MHP severely for its obstructionism following the June election, when it refused all offers to join a coalition government. With 12 percent of the popular vote, compared to 16 percent in June, the MHP lost almost half of its parliamentary seats. The HDP was handicapped by its inability to distance itself from the PKK, which a large portion of the electorate regards as being responsible for the upsurge in domestic violence.
Indeed, the HDP seemed at risk of failing to obtain the 10 percent it needed to enter Parliament, an outcome that would have provided the AKP with a majority large enough to amend the Constitution by itself. In the end, the HDP ended up with 10.75 percent of the vote, down from 13 percent in the June election, preventing Erdogan from securing the compliant parliament he would need to establish an executive presidency.
Nonetheless, Turkeyand’s new government has been provided with a broad enough mandate to address some of the countryand’s most difficult and imminent policy challenges — most notably the peace process with the Kurds. A previous effort was suspended ahead of the November election as the PKK returned to violence and the AKPand’s leadership adopted increasingly nationalist and hawkish rhetoric. With the election over, however, there is hope that the new government will restart the negotiations. If successful, the talks would have a major impact not only domestically but also on the ongoing fight against ISIL.
The AKPand’s majority will also enable it to continue to recalibrate the countryand’s foreign policy. Turkeyand’s policies following the Arab Spring led to a loss of influence and friends in the region however, recently the country has begun to adapt its approach to the realities on the ground. For example, Turkey has lifted its objections to a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in negotiations to end the civil war in Syria. Similarly, a new commitment to the struggle against ISIL has eliminated a core point of friction with Turkeyand’s Western partners.
The main trap that the new government must avoid is the return to a heavily paternalistic style of governance. The AKP should take comfort in its large majority and start to view minority opinions and peaceful dissent more benignly in a way that befits a country negotiating accession to the European Union. The lesson of the two elections is clear: Turkeyand’s voters want a strong, stable government, but not one that runs roughshod over its opponents.
hr *Sinan andulgen is the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. andcopy Project Syndicate 2015


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