OPINION by Cengiz Aktar – Right after Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections, I forecast the following: “Change will not come easily to Turkey. The ruling AKP doesn’t have enough seats to form a government on its own as it runs the risk of losing a potential vote of confidence. Coalitions won’t be easy either under [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s omnipresence. Despite his now-devastated dream to become an executive president, he arguably could be tempted to leave his mark on any upcoming political deal to save his future.”
Almost three months later, we have reached the point where Turkey, under Erdogan’s stewardship, is sailing in uncharted waters. The beleaguered president has been widely criticised for allegedly doing everything possible to hold onto power.
Let’s go through his actions over the last three months.
Difficult coalition options
As is the custom in every democracy, Erdogan has given the task to form a government to the chairperson of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the winner of the June 7 elections. The chairperson is the caretaker Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But the process was unusually slow, indicating Erdogan’s reluctance to form a coalition government.
Short of sufficient seats to form a single party government, the AKP has started to sound out the other two parties, the Republican People’s Party (CH) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP) – but not the Kurdish-majority People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – for a coalition government.
To be fair, HDP had already declared their unwillingness to join a coalition with AKP, but curiously accepted to be in the interim government that will see the country towards elections.
The negotiations took place under Erdogan’s close watch. He and his close aides did not refrain from torpedoing any coalition through continuous public remarks, whereby they openly called for snap elections.
Naturally, the negotiations failed. None of the consulted parties dared to join any government which would be seen to be under Erdogan’s direct control, wary that they may be punished by their voters sooner or later.
Davutoglu’s mandate finally expired, but the president abstained from handing over the mandate to the next in line, the chairperson of the second biggest party in parliament: the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Although the odds of Kilicdaroglu forming a coalition government were slim, the president didn’t want to take the slightest risk to be perceived – even for a short while – as having lost control.
This move was as unconstitutional as many of Erdogan’s other shenanigans since his election as president in August 2014.
Let’s recall how during the parliamentary election campaign he openly took the AKP’s side, asking for 400 MPs for the party when he was supposed to maintain a neutral position. Now, he is preparing to hold public rallies once again in support of AKP at the snap elections.
The latest breach of the constitution came at the beginning of the week when he announced the date of the snap elections – which is the task of the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK).
The president has made it clear that he is not ashamed of his behaviour: “You can either accept it or not, but the way the country is governed has changed. Now is the time for this actual situation to be legalised and be defined in a new constitution.”
He also belittles the election results, and in particular, HDP’s win, which was – for many observers – the only good news to come out of those elections. HDP, after all, is a party which has managed to become a political institution appealing not only to Kurds, but also to many Turkish citizens.
Erdogan is closely watching any government formation because, one would assume, he is concerned about keeping the “sensitive” records of the past 13 years away from the public, or more significantly, the judiciary. Towards this aim, members of the newly formed interim government have been carefully handpicked.
At the end of the day, for Erdogan, an election is valid and its results legitimate only if his party has won. Indeed, Turkey is now headed towards endless electioneering until the party of the powerful ruler wins. Unless, of course, the snap elections are annulled by evoking the state of war, as stipulated in the Article 78 of the Constitution.
Taking power back
So, Erdogan has decided to make sure that AKP will regain the majority it lost in the June elections. One way or another, he is trying to remain in power to ensure his political and personal future.
To reach that goal, he’ll shun no avenue, including the most deadly and chaotic ones. He is doing so by resorting to what Turkish rulers know best (ie, attempting to resolve conflicts by violence and war instead of peaceful conflict resolution).
As he cannot wage a war against a foreign country, like Syria for instance, he simply rekindles the dormant, yet timeless, conflict with the Kurds.
This is how the Erdogan administration has now resorted to a war against the Kurdish political movement as a whole and its armed branch, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to recapture the nationalist votes so as to regain the majority in the parliament.
The method is the bombing of PKK encampments on the Iraqi side of the border, declaring large chunks of Kurdish populated territory as a sort of “military security zone”, and arresting many Kurdish politicians.
The ceasefire, which was in place since early 2013, but not supported by any viable peace-building initiative, disappeared within hours. This desperate strategy seems to be leading nowhere.
It is highly doubtful that Turkish citizens are ready for more violence. This is evident in the extraordinarily calm way they have responded to what was perceived as Erdogan’s invitation to violence, which he has done by publicly praising the armed forces that attacked Kurdish fighters or celebrating the idea of martyrdom.
Turkish citizens seem to have enjoyed the peaceful environment arising from the mutual ceasefire between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK.
But before Erdogan’s dreams fail (no pollster predicts any major change in the votes of the AKP) global financial markets are already dumping assets of emerging economies, such as Turkey. They have had plenty of reasons to sell Turkish assets and currency, which appear vulnerable in the face of the growing instability triggered by the political, as well as the military, challenges.
These challenges should be read together with the failure of Turkey’s policies vis-a-vis the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the international community’s growing suspicions regarding an informal Turkey-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) axis.
This, despite Ankara’s recent move to join the anti-ISIL coalition by allowing its allies to use the Incirlik airbase, and despite the deadly attack in Suruc, killing 34 pro-Kurdish young activists, which was attributed to ISIL.
Indeed, many in Turkey and abroad suspect Ankara of using the fight against ISIL as a cover to fight Kurds in the region and to fight the Syrian regime.
Since the Gezi Park protests of the summer of 2013 and the corruption charges against the AKP, Erdogan has become an anxious man trying to ensure his future at all costs.
Ill-advised by a cohort of sycophants, he is increasingly insulated from reality. He has become a sort of “untouchable” and “unaccountable” man, making decisions that put both the country and the region at risk.
This is good for no one; it means chaos for Turkey and more instability for an already insecure region. In sum, Erdogan is now part of the problem and no more part of any solution.
Cengiz Aktar is senior scholar at Istanbul Policy Center. A former director at the United Nations, he is one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU.