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Turkey Political Crisis Deepens

by Jamie Dettmer June 21, 2015

Turkey's nationalists closed the door this weekend on forming a coalition with the country's main opposition party, seemingly setting the stage either for new parliamentary elections or for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to remain in power with nationalist support. The price for that, however, could be the end of peace talks between Ankara and the Kurds.

Another price the nationalists in the post-election wrangling are trying to extract is reducing the power wielded by Erdoğan, who had hoped that his party would secure in parliamentary polls on June 7 a majority large enough to re-write the constitution to strengthen the powers of the presidency and reduce those of parliament.

Erdoğan's Islamist AKP emerged again as the biggest party after the June 7 election, but lost its parliamentary majority needed for one-party government for the first time since 2002. The AKP lost 10 percent of the votes it received in 2011 and Erdoğan's dream of introducing a tailor-made constitution was shattered.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) won 132 seats on June 7, while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the leftist Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) each received 80. The AKP has 258 seats in the 550-member Parliament.

Nationalist leader dismissed coalition proposal

Late Friday, nationalist leader Devlet Bahçeli dismissed a coalition proposal from the CHP that would unite all three main opposition parties, despite being offered the prime ministership in the arrangement. "It would not work out, I don't think so," Bahçeli said to Turkey's Sözcü newspaper. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he had made the offer in the overall interests of Turkey.

The nationalists have been seen by analysts as the most likely coalition partner for the AKP, but its conditions may be too hard for Erdoğan to stomach. They include the president ceasing to interfere in government affairs and to restrict his role in line with the constitution to more ceremonial duties - and to end the peace initiative aimed at resolving a three-decade long Kurdish insurgency.

For more than two years Ankara has been pursuing peace talks with the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan.

To add insult to injury, Bahçeli also made it clear this weekend that Erdoğan should move from a newly built and controversial 1,000-room presidential palace in Ankara back to Çankaya, the traditional presidential facility. He is insisting also on the retrial for four former government ministers who were acquitted in a graft probe launched in 2013 involving Erdoğan's son Bilal and other family members. "Give us Bilal, take the government," Bahçeli has reportedly told AKP leader and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

"There is an element of brinkmanship here by Bahçeli," says a European diplomat based in Ankara. "It isn't yet clear if he will stick to all four main conditions but Erdoğan can't I think agree to move out of the palace or to retry the ministers – it represents far too much danger for him. But the nationalists also can't over-play their hand – if a snap election is called Erdoğan could get rewarded by an electorate fearful of instability," said the diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Turkish president can call a snap election if no one is able to form a government 45 days after kicking off a coalition-seeking process. The clock will start ticking from June 24 – the formal date Davutoğlu as leader of the largest party has been given to start the process.

Turkish politics no longer 'one-man show'

The June 7 election result was hailed by secular Turks and liberals as bringing to an end Erdoğan and the AKP's political dominance. They breathed a sigh of relief saying the election meant that Turkish politics were no longer a one-man show, largely due to the remarkable improvement in the electoral position of the pro-Kurdish leftist HDP. But some commentators urged caution about a premature prediction of the death of the AKP.

Mustafa Akyol, writing for the website Al-Monitor, argued Erdoğan had lost a battle, but perhaps not the war. In the event no coalition government can be formed, a snap election could rebound on the foes of the AKP.

"The AKP will be able to tell the electorate, 'You see, unless we are in full power, the country descends into chaos.' The Turkish electorate, for which the very term 'coalition' is already an alarm signal due to bad memories from the 1990s, could find this argument persuasive," he maintained.

Some analysts argue the nationalists know they will have to temper their conditions for entering a coalition with the AKP and that Erdoğan's preferred option is to go for a re-run of the June election. Opinion polls taken since June 7 suggest that the AKP would do better in snap elections and come close to securing a majority.

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