Turkey safeguarded its democracy – this was the first and foremost remark after the results of the election were announced. However, when it comes to politics, change is always a tumultuous process – the lost majority of the main political party presupposes coalition building, which firstly might be difficult to achieve, and secondly could instigate legislative controversies and, ultimately, stalemates. One thing is certain though, political instability amidst stalling economic growth could jeopardize the future of Turkey, but there are high hopes for more positive developments.
President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unexpectedly the big loser of last month’s election after the Turkish people denied the AKP another majority in the legislative body. The result was also a personal blow to Erdogan’s plan to carry out changes to the constitution – scrapping parliamentarism in favor of presidentialism and further augmenting his presidential powers. After three consecutive terms as prime minister and now in the presidency, Erdogan openly campaigned for his party prior to the parliamentary election – a clear breach of the principle of non-partisanship of the executive. The ambitious president has sought to establish his megalomaniac predilections in many respects – his new presidential palace, recently deemed illegal by the Turkish court, is perhaps the most visual example; the Guinness Book of Records’ election poster of President Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is another. In spite of this grandiose image on the outside, Erdogan surely now has genuine reasons to harbor an insecurity with regards to the loyalty of his electorate since many now feel discontent with the authoritarian tendencies and Islamization of politics of AKP and Erdogan per se.
Still, one should acknowledge that many people in Turkey favour strong leadership and a paternalistic figure such as Erdogan governing the country. Moreover, Erdogan’s AKP is the most well organized political party in the country, which even managed to tame the military establishment – historically Turkey has suffered several military coups. Erdogan and the AKP should be given credit for keeping the military in the barracks, but this accolade shouldn’t be overly exaggerated. For more than a decade, the AKP managed to penetrate and restrain state institutions such as the central bank, the parliament and the judicial establishment. Despite the fact that the AKP remains the foremost political party in Turkey, the fact that it lost its majority brings prospects for restoring the independence of these institutions. It should also be mentioned that the election result corroborates the loss of confidence in the AKP after mounting evidence of corruption, economic decline and the disastrous mismanagement of the protests in Gezi Park, to name a few of the government’s miscalculated actions.
The biggest surprise in the election came from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – traditionally a pro-Kurdish party– that entered parliament passing the 10% threshold (which happens to be one of the highest in the world). The small victory of the HDP, with big repercussions for the Turkish political landscape, can be attributed to the dramatic change of the outlook of the traditionally ethnic party that has now embarked on inclusiveness, seeking to attract voters with its liberal agenda. HDP’s partaking in the Grand National Assembly would also imply major, and hopefully positive developments in resolving the Kurdish problem – certainly it will be easier to drive change within the legislature. However, a possible coalition between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which happened to gain the third largest share of votes in the election, would potentially hinder the Kurdish peace process as the MHP is adamantly against it.
With regards to the Turkish economy, until 2012 the AKP did remarkably – investment was fostered, meaningful infrastructure projects were undertaken and Turkey established itself as one of the top-20 economies worldwide. However, there has long since been a reversal, with rising unemployment, less consumer spending and higher household debt. A harmonious coalition in power might bring the necessary security and balanced policies that will encourage economic development and ensuring a favourable investment climate, but how this will unfold remains to be seen.
The same dynamic of deterioration can be applied to the relations with the West in general, and the European Union in particular. Turkey’s potential EU membership has been frozen for a variety of reasons: Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War; the lack of resolution of the Cyprus Problem; the failure to answer the Kurdish question; restrictions on media freedoms; and the inexcusable fact that Turkey has one of the highest number of imprisoned journalists. Freedom House still classifies Turkey as a Partly Free country primarily because of the restrictions imposed on social media, the Internet and the press. This is unacceptable for a democratic polity seeking membership in the European Union and the new government in Ankara would be wise to work on improving Turkey’s relations with the West by resolving and removing these barriers to progress.
The outcome of the election is a double-edged sword: it could lead to the toning down of the authoritarian tendencies stemming from Erdogan’s leadership and party, but it could also bring major instability in the country resulting from potential discrepancies in the legislature as a consequence of a potentially fractious coalition. At the very least, however, the AKP’s lost majority could be a wakeup call for this increasingly authoritarian party to perhaps rethink its modus operandi and break free from its growing anti-democratic tendencies.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the growing authoritarian character of Turkey’s top political leadership, Turkish people defended the democratic principles of their country. Amidst growing concerns about civil liberties, the recent parliamentary election demonstrated that Turkish people would not allow oppressive governance to challenge the pillars of the Turkish Republic – secularism, equality and democracy. Yet despite this peaceful but unequivocal protest, it remains to be seen in the following weeks and months whether Turkey will embark on a path towards a more democratic, economically secure and politically stable future.