After 13 years in government, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to achieve a majority in this weekend’s elections, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
As well as facing the challenge of establishing a workable coalition in order to rule, Erdogan also risks losing his dream of establishing an American-style presidency, which would give him absolute executive powers as head of state. Such a move would require major changes in legislation and the backing of more than two-thirds of parliament or a public referendum.
Turkey now stands on the edge of political instability with three possible outcomes: the AKP could form a coalition; Erdogan could try to rule with a minority government (AKP achieved 41% of the vote) or he can call for another election next autumn.
The great success of the AKP – a revolutionary combination of political Islam and Western democracy – was of concern to many Western and regional countries. Apprehension turned to antipathy when Erdogan confronted Israel, permitting a flotilla of ships led by the Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, to sail from Istanbul to Gaza in order to break the Israeli siege in 2010.
After the “Arab Spring” it seemed that the Turkish model was exactly what was needed and would be happily exported to Tunisia and Egypt where Islamists prevailed in the first elections. The military coup in Egypt and the subsequent challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood’s status when they were suddenly branded “terrorists” had an impact on public opinion at home – the AKP is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdogan also lost popularity at home with his direct and vociferous involvement in Syria which was initially greatly encouraged by the West and the Gulf states. His lack of restraint and diplomacy led many to question his wisdom and leadership style and Turkey suddenly found itself alone on the front line while its erstwhile anti-Assad comrades stepped back to reconsider.
Finally, Turkey’s economic problems contributed to Erdogan’s mounting woes. Having performed an economic miracle which saw Turkey become the 17th largest economy in the world, recent years have seen growth slip from 7% to 3% and galloping inflation. The weekend’s election results have seen 30 percent wiped off the value of the Turkish lira.
President Erdogan has made many errors, it cannot be denied. His violent 2013 clamp down on protests and his description of his political challengers in these elections as “terrorists, marginals, gays and atheists” do not inspire confidence in an era where more liberal values are upheld by the internet generation. Their values are closer to those embodied by the youthful leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, whose party did spectacularly well in the elections.
Turkey now risks a period of chaos as the various parties jostle to form a workable government. And chaos carries its own risks – in the 1980s, the Army used it as an excuse to seize power, triggering a series of coups.
Erdogan has lost much in these elections, and his defeat has been the cause of much celebration among his enemies, chief among them his nemesis, President Assad of Syria whose future tenure now looks more certain than Erdogan’s.