ErdoIan down but not out

It is hard to strike the right balance the first days after such momentous elections, especially for the majority of Turks who did not vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
There is joy and relief about President Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s shattered invincibility. People take pride in the vitality of Turkeyand’s democracy because most Turks have sent out a clear message: We donand’t want Turkey to become a one-man show. Some even speculate that the AKPand’s loss signals the beginning of the end of the Erdogan era. Let me explain why I believe we should not jump to conclusions that could soon turn out to be premature and only based on wishful thinking. Yes, Erdogan is down, but he is definitively not yet out.
He is down because the vaguely described presidential system he presented has been rejected. The new majority in Parliament does not want it, and, maybe even more importantly, many AKP officials realize that in its present shape the issue divides the party. The AKP has paid the price for Erdoganand’s relentless campaigning in favor of bluntly sidelining Parliament. It is hard to imagine the party will make the same mistake again.
Erdoganand’s image is damaged because he turned out to be a normal politician who makes tactical and strategic mistakes. He is not the brilliant campaigner and infallible master tactician many Turks thought he was. He miscalculated the negative impact of his pompous palace, and underestimated the anger and aversion he created by overstepping his constitutional limits. His hate speech estranged him from a crucial part of the AKP electorate, the swing voters who decided to move to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP).
But Erdogan is not out. Firstly, for the simple reason that he remains the president until 2019. That means he still has the power and the competences to facilitate a government he agrees with, and, on the other hand, make life very difficult for any administration he dislikes.
Secondly, Erdogan is still the de facto leader of the biggest party in the Turkish Parliament. In the foreseeable future, the AKP will do nothing Erdogan disagrees with. There is a lot of speculation about internal disagreements and possible challenges to his dominant position inside the AKP, but for the moment these are just rumors. In the next 45 days, Erdogan remains the key player.
Much will depend on his ability and willingness to learn from the errors he made. Many observers believe he is not capable of doing so because it is not in his genes, and he is too big a bully to accept criticism. I would not be so sure.
My guess is that the AKP and the MHP will, in the end, try to form a coalition government. Under which conditions nobody knows right now and whether these efforts will be successful or not is far from certain. But both parties know they canand’t go for new elections if they have refused to play a constructive role in the next 45 days. The AKP will do its utmost to show it has understood the message from the voters who left them. They will try to seduce the MHP into joining a coalition that will have one key task: to prevent Turkeyand’s economy from gliding further down the hill. To get MHP leader Devlet Bahandceli on board, the AKP will be willing to sacrifice the Kurdish settlement process. If Erdogan is smart, he will take a step back, at least temporarily, give up on his presidential ambitions for the time being, and promise to act as a normal non-partisan president.
If the MHP does not accept the offer, or if a shaky coalition stumbles over the first disagreements, Erdogan can call for new elections. The AKP will then present itself as the only constructive and responsible option, and the sole guarantee for stability. If Erdogan stays out of the campaign and allows the AKP to shift focus, from regime change to a plan for the ailing economy, nobody should be surprised when the AKP manages to get a safe majority at the next elections. When that happens, nothing can stop Erdogan from trying one more time to get what he always wanted, this time by presenting a clear model and using persuasion instead of threats. Rome, too, was not built in a day.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman