Turks deny Erdogan a parliamentary majority

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likes to say, “democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.” Having been rebuffed in today’s election, Erdogan may not quite reach his destination.

Erdogan sought a parliamentary super-majority to enable him to push through constitutional change that would abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system for a presidential one, with him in charge. Instead, his AKP party lost even its parliamentary majority, though it won more seats than any single rival.

Turkish democracy is not safe yet, however. According to the Jerusalem Post, “Erdogan is probably going to push ahead in consolidating power for himself and his party and continue to Islamize the state” regardless of the election. And “many of [Turkey’s] state institutions have already been brought under his authority.”

But, at a minimum, his movement towards his undemocratic “destination” should be slowed. Presumably, Erdogan will try to form a coalition government. However, the three main opposition parties have so far ruled out entering into a coalition with the AKP.

This might change, of course. The ultra-nationalist MHP is said to be the most likely candidate to partner with Erdogan. It would almost certainly resist further attacks on the democracy, but is considered unlikely to call for big changes in Erdogan’s foreign policy.

Another possible coalition partner is the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). It finished fourth with 12 percent of the vote, and thus can now be represented in parliament. As the Washington Post says, this is “a remarkable achievement for a party that was formed less than three years ago and has direct ties to the violent three-decade Kurdish separatist insurgency in Turkey’s southeast.”

An alliance with the HDP might dramatically change Turkish foreign policy. Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies, Middle East Institute says:

Turkey built its Syria policy on two objectives: toppling the regime and marginalizing the Kurds. They turned a blind eye to radical jihadi groups’ activities within Turkey’s borders, thinking they could be an effective fighting force not only against the Assad regime but against Syrian Kurds.

If we see an HDP-AKP coalition, that will change. Turkey might be forced to engage the Kurds and engage less with the radical Islamist groups.

I wouldn’t count on too dramatic a transformation. However, Erdogan’s foreign policy has fluctuated in the past. I can envisage it becoming more cautious, and somewhat less religiously-based and anti-Western as a result of this election.

Let’s hope so.