The most visible figure in the Turkish election campaign is suddenly nowhere to be seen.
After the governing AK Party lost the parliamentary majority it had held since 2002, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s absence is conspicuous. He had dominated the airwaves for more than a month, campaigning for the party he founded in 2001.
Erdogan last appeared at a voting booth in Istanbul on Sunday, and has since been holed up in his 1,150-room palace in Ankara. That’s a situation so unprecedented that local media are publishing tickers marking the time he’s been off air -- two days, 19 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds as of 9:36 a.m. on Wednesday in Istanbul.
“The result of the election is a kick in the teeth for Mr. Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the last 13 years,” said Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. “Yet his opponents -- and foreign observers -- underestimate him at their peril.”
Erdogan hasn’t lost a vote since he ran for mayor of Istanbul in 1994. While he’s technically above party politics as president, he was counting on an AK Party victory to grant him the legislative backing to change the constitution and shift Turkey’s center of power from parliament to his office.
That goal now looks out of reach, with a fractious opposition so far united on only one issue: Erdogan shouldn’t be given any more power.
The electorate has “given him a red card,” said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP. Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, called on Erdogan to resign, saying he’d already exceeded the constitutional boundaries for the presidency in his first 10 months in office.
There are signs Erdogan may not have given up on his ambitions just yet. His adviser Yigit Bulut interpreted the inconclusive election result as validation of the need for a new system.
“A clear signal for the presidential system has emerged,” Bulut said in an interview on Ahaber TV on Monday. “You can’t be fooled only by appearances.”
At the palace in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan met with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who succeeded him as leader of the AK Party and presided over its biggest electoral reverse. He accepted Davutoglu’s resignation along with the rest of the cabinet, and asked them to remain in their posts until a new administration is formed, according to a written statement from the president’s office.
It’s not clear how long that will take. There’s no obvious combination of the four parties in parliament that would command a majority. Erdogan can call another election if a new government can’t be formed within 45 days.
The president’s next scheduled public appearance is at an event for students in Ankara, in two days’ time.
For now, Erdogan “might be taking a step back and letting the parties work it out among themselves,” William Jackson, emerging market economist at Capital Economics Ltd., said by phone. “He’s waiting for the dust to settle before making his next move.”