For the first time in 13 years, the country stands to form a coalition government, but has yet to rule out early elections.
Turkey is preparing for a return to coalition government after 13 years of one-party rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), hoping there will be none of the chaos and uncertainty that dogged such alliances in the past.
The Islamic-rooted AKP won the biggest share of the vote in June 7 legislative elections but lost its overall majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002. AKP leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said that the party will work to form a coalition, while warning that early elections cannot be ruled out should the discussions fail.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday he would first ask Davutoglu as leader of the largest party to form a coalition, adding “God willing, it won’t take long.”
Before the AKP swept to power, Turkey had no less than five governments and four prime ministers within the space of just a decade. Some could only survive for a few months and the impression of permanent chaos, combined with the trauma of the 2000-2001 financial crisis, helped propel the rise of the AKP.
Symbolic of the period were figures like Bulent Ecevit, who died in 2006 after being premier on four occasions in the 1970s and 1990s, and Mesut Yilmaz, premier three times in the 1990s. Many blamed the financial crisis at the time for the failure of the broadly based coalition between the center-left, nationalists and center-right, to deal with Turkey’s problems.
Erdogan, premier from 2003-2014 and head of state since August, had wanted to create a presidential system in Turkey after the elections. But the AKP’s weaker results have torpedoed the plan.
The AKP sought to play on fears of a coalition in its campaign, reeling off lists of achievements recorded under its “stable” government. “We have always been opposed to a coalition. We told our people that,” Davutoglu said in a frank interview with state television last week. “The coalitions in the 1990s harmed the country. We said coalitions aren’t good but the people said ‘you may say that but we prefer a coalition’.”
“Turkey will lose time with coalitions. But if the people want this, then we will do our best.”
Analysts have said while the AKP could team up with the third-placed Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a grand coalition with the second placed Republican People’s Party (CHP) is also possible. But ahead of the start of coalition talks, both the AKP and the opposition have clearly drawn up their red lines. Making, and above all preserving, a coalition will be far from easy. The work will be complicated by a vicious election campaign where the leaders of the parties flung bitter insults at each other.
“The culture of compromise and the democratic culture are mainly weak in Turkey,” said Fatih Gursul of Istanbul University. “The aggressive rhetoric of the political leaders is the biggest obstacle on the way to a coalition,” said Gursul.
Markets had been deeply troubled by the prospect of a chaotic coalition, with the Turkish stock exchange plunging and the lira currency coming under sustained pressure in the wake of the result. But some analysts argue there is no reason why coalitions should always have negative connotations in Turkey.
“For a political party in Turkey, a coalition is synonymous with concessions but the great industrial powers like Germany have long been ruled by alliances,” said Serkan Demirtas, Ankara bureau chief of the Hurriyet Daily News.
Michael Harris, Turkey equity strategist at Renaissance Capital, argued that despite past experiences Turkey’s political system was sufficiently mature to deal with a coalition. “A coalition is not something to be afraid of,” said Harris in a report on the elections. “A functioning coalition will go a long way to reducing the medium term market and economic risks associated with a consolidation of President Erdogan’s power.”
Meanwhile, pro-government commentators have consoled themselves with the thought that a poorly performing coalition could tempt voters back to the prospect of one party AKP rule. “It will be a painful experience but good for reminding us what Turkey was without the AKP,” wrote Nagehan Alci in the Sabah daily.