Issue 6:2015 06 11:Turkey’s Election – no thank you, Mr President.

11 June 2015  

Turkey’s Election – no thank you, Mr President.

by Neil Tidmarsh


Last Sunday, Turkey – ever at the world’s geographical and cultural crossroads – found itself at a political crossroad. Faced with a choice between the parliamentary route and the presidential route, it chose to continue on the former – possibly with a change of driver.


The decision has come as a relief to the West. In the thirteen years since Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party came to power, it has shut the army out of politics, established remarkable economic growth and consolidated its position on the world stage as a regional champion. But the last five years have seen its nationalist and religiously conservative government bullying political protesters, critical journalists, secular liberals, social media users and the judiciary. Many believe that President Erdogan’s plans to change the constitution into a presidential rather than a parliamentary democracy would have led to a Putin-style authoritarianism. During the election, Erdogan’s disregard of the law, which requires the president to remain neutral, was certainly a disturbing sign.


The other welcome result was the success of the pro-Kurdish HDP. At last the country’s Kurdish population of 20 million has representation in parliament – a clear triumph for democracy. But this may also help to bring the aims of Turkey and Europe in the Middle East into closer alignment. While Nato’s worry is the rise of Isis, the AKP government’s has been quite the opposite. Its priorities have been to topple Assad in Syria and to prevent the formation of an independent Kurdistan; the rise of Isis – fighting Assad in Syria and the Kurds in northern Iraq – has not threatened either of these aims, to say the least. But now that the Kurds – deadly enemies of Isis – have political influence in Ankara, Turkey might adopt the more robust attitude towards Isis which Nato has been urging on it for some time.


Nevertheless, the election results do give some cause for concern. Now that no one party has an outright majority, there is bound to be a period of uncertainty, if not chaos and instability. The AKP has forty-five days to put a coalition government together. Failure to do that might trigger another election but it’s difficult to see which of the other three parties – the CHP (secularist, social democrat), the HDP (pro-Kurdish, liberal) and the MHP (nationalist) – it could do business with. It’s also difficult to imagine any of those three opposition parties putting a coalition together to decisively oust the AKP from power. They all ran anti-AKP, anti-Erdogan campaigns, but they have little else in common. In the uneasy manoeuvring, inevitable in such volatile and unpredictable circumstances, AKP’s political experience and Erdogan’s political nous may well pay dividends. A protracted period of chaotic minority rule might even play into his hands, enabling him to repeat his bid for more power, recasting it as the only way to save the country from the disorder and instability of political deadlock.


Istanbul’s stock market lost six percent of its value on Monday, reflecting doubts about the challenges of coalition government. Erdogan’s economic miracle was already looking a little tarnished before the election – growth has slowed by nearly fifty percent. Now more than ever Turkey needs to move on from the crossroads, firmly, resolutely and swiftly. Its challenges affect us all. People traffickers are moving migrants west through Turkey from the Middle East to Europe. Other criminals are moving would-be jihadists east through Turkey from Europe to Iraq and Syria. Turkey is an important Nato ally, a powerful democracy on the front line of the Middle East’s conflicts. Consider the countries on its borders. Greece is on the edge of bankruptcy and ejection from the EU. Syria faces the collapse of Assad’s regime and further Isis triumphs. Iraq seems unable to counter the advance of Isis. Iran might secure a nuclear deal with the US this summer, which is sure to ratchet up dangerous sectarian tensions with Saudi Arabia. Russia and the Ukraine face it on the other side of the Black Sea, with the Crimea in between.


The world needs a stable, secure and prosperous Turkey right now. Today it cannot afford anything else at the political, religious, cultural and geographical crossroad Turkey has always been.







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