Turkey won, ErdoIan lost

The devastating blow dealt by voters in Turkey in the June 7 parliamentary election by depriving the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of the required number of seats to form the government alone has confirmed the electorateand’s discomfort with the policies of the AKP and the countryand’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been pushing for further polarization and deepening divisions at the expense of an inclusive approach to governance.
The message was clear: Voters clamor for more moderate policies, both at the national level as well as in conducting the countryand’s foreign relations with neighbors, partners and allies. They are not happy with the corruption, favoritism, lavish spending by the government, erratic behavior by Erdogan, suspension of the rule of law and trampling on rights and freedoms. Looming economic challenges such as rising unemployment, especially among the youth, slow growth, rising debt and high interest and inflation rates have all contributed to the downfall of the AKP from power, but it was able to receive 40.7 percent of the vote, a decline of 9 percentage points compared to the last national election in 2011.
The AKP can only stay in power as the major partner of a coalition government by striking a deal with one of the three opposition parties. None of them has responded positively to such an offer so far, but this may change as the country moves forward without a government in place. The main impediment before an AKP-led coalition is the heavy burden it will place on any junior partner that is willing to risk a backlash from its voters because of perceived cooperation with a tainted AKP.
In other words, the AKP is damaged goods with President Erdogan — who has been implicated in massive corruption scandals and illegal arms transfers to radical groups in Syria — still pulling the strings within the party. The AKP lost its bearings by whitewashing corrupt ministers who received millions of dollars in graft money, sanctioning the unprecedented witch-hunt against the so-called and”parallel stateand” that unjustly removed thousands from the civil service and cracking down on independent and critical media, businesses and civil society groups. Therefore, any party that is willing to enter a coalition with the AKP will have to share the blame. That is a huge risk and may very well create a strong backlash for opposition parties in the next election, which is likely to be an early one.
Therefore, simple arithmetic by crunching the numbers to find out the possible shape of the next coalition government would not mean much in the current political environment in Turkey. The AKP has become a liability in politics. Under Erdoganand’s stewardship, the AKP government has been acting with full impunity and utter disregard for the rule of law, accountability and transparency as if it was going to stay in power for decades to come. The government whistleblower Fuat Avniand’s revelation that officials were scrambled at the Prime Ministry to start destroying documents suggests the AKP never thought it would leave power and was involved in massive criminality. Now they are trying to cover their tracks in panic mode as they find themselves in a huge predicament to convince at least one of the opposition parties to enter into a coalition.
The election results also indicated that Erdogan will not only have to give up on his long-held dreams of becoming an executive president with all the powers of the government consolidated in his office but might also fail to finish his term in the presidency. Erdogan has so far survived significant legal troubles and anti-government protests with brute force and the destruction of state institutions and will not be able to reinvent himself as a reform-minded politician or win over new friends at home and abroad. He also lost leverage in defanging the opposition, which has proved its capacity to mobilize on a unified centerpiece campaign platform in opposing one-man rule by chief political Islamist Erdogan.
Erdogan will be marginalized because the opposition will seek to isolate and insulate him from politics. The criminal charges against him will be raised again to put him under pressure. The bureaucracy will grind to a halt and civil servants will shy away from working on his illegal and unconstitutional bid by cracking down on opponents and critics. More importantly, a challenge against his position within the AKP is inevitable. Since Erdogan wonand’t give up his influence in the party without a fight, this will create a split in the party, leading to a new start-up political party that will branch out from the AKP. The heavyweights are not comfortable with Erdogan or his caretaker Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu and they will try to take over the party leadership. If that fails, a brand new party on the ashes of the AKP looms large on the horizon.
If the highly rhetorical speech on Sunday night by Davutoilu on the loss of the AKPand’s parliamentary majority is any indication, Erdogan and Davutoilu plan to stick to a policy of and”denialand” in commenting on the major defeat. They do not seem to want to admit error, even tacitly, probably out of fear that such an admission may be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Yet, playing on the and”glass is half-fulland” scenario will not mean much in terms of gaining any traction in the governance of the country and attracting votes in the elections that will likely come sooner rather than later. The AKP will need to set aside its hostile approach to social groups, media and businesses that were deemed opponents while effectively aocating for a more robust approach to reforms in the judiciary, the economy and social policies.
I believe that under its current leadership, the AKP has lost its capacity and capability to make a dramatic course correction in the economy, foreign policy and the governance of the country, even after the electoral setback it suffered in Sundayand’s election. After ruling the nation with only a select handful of loyalists with no new blood, Erdogan has dealt a deadly blow to the AKP, which will find it difficult to recover. Even if Erdogan and the AKP attempt to change their course, it will be nothing but lip service that is devoid of any substance and long-term strategic thinking. The AKP will try to maintain the patronage system Erdogan helped establish while maintaining the cooption policy to neutralize opponents, or punish them if that is not possible. That will be difficult now that the AKP is no longer able to control all the levers of government, however. In either case, the AKP is doomed and Erdoganand’s days are numbered because the status quo scenario is no longer possible under the current outcome of elections.
On the positive side, the election has restored the credibility of Turkish democracy after two years of turbulence since the corruption scandals of 2013 shook the government. Opposition parties were able to increase their support despite having been forced to compete in the most unfair elections in recent memory in Turkish politics. The main opposition Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) was able to keep its support at the same level despite the defection of neo-nationalists and a conscious choice to move to a social democratic platform, along with a temporary shift of some of its traditional voters to the pro-Kurdish Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP). If the CHP sticks to this change and keeps communicating the same message of authentic reform, it will finally overcome and”credibilityand” problems with the voters stemming from heavy baggage after years of disconnect with the mainstream. The CHP will mount a formidable challenge in the next election.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was also a winner because it doubled its number of seats in Parliament. More importantly, the HDP was able to increase its votes dramatically by appealing not only to Kurds but also to the many Turkish voters who considered the HDP the only force able to thwart Erdoganand’s ambitions to turn the countryand’s regime into one-man rule. It has succeeded in that effort. Moreover, this election has created more incentives for the HDP to further distance itself from violence and has proved that it can become a genuine facilitator in resolving the decades-long Kurdish problem peacefully.
In the end, Turkey has won while Erdogan and the AKP have lost. This is not just a temporary setback for the AKP but rather a mortal blow that will send the AKP into the political graveyard, albeit gradually. The opposition knows this and smells blood after the election results broke the invincibility of the AKP. They will now go for the kill rather than help prolong the AKPand’s political life. A snap election is therefore a likely outcome.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman