Erdogan Remains Wildcard as Parties Ponder Turkey Coalition

  • Constitution gives president final word on any coalition deal
  • Polls show ruling party will again fall short of majority

As millions of Turks prepare to vote on Nov. 1, prospects of another hung parliament make President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sway over the governing AK Party the wildcard in any possible coalition deal.

QuickTake Turkey’s Continental Divide

Erdogan strengthened his grip on the AK Party in September when loyalists, including former Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, were appointed to dominate the party’s decision-making body. Erdogan’s hand-picked successor Ahmet Davutoglu remained as chairman with the task of trying to regain the parliamentary majority that the party lost in June balloting.

If opinion poll predictions hold, the AK Party, founded by Erdogan in 2001, probably won’t be able to form a single-party government. That would put out of reach Erdogan’s plans to introduce a formal presidential system and concentrate power in his office. Meanwhile, his inner circle, including his son Bilal, face threats from opposition parties promising to reopen investigations into corruption.

Given that background, even if there is a coalition government, it will definitely be “shaky,” according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, a political analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara.

“Managing Erdogan will be an issue in forming and sustaining a coalition,” Ozcan said by phone on Oct. 22. Acting Prime Minister Davutoglu “can’t form a coalition over Erdogan’s objections, otherwise he could find himself deposed very quickly,” he said.

No Deal

Turkey’s constitution gives the president the right to choose who leads coalition talks, giving Erdogan more control over the process than the prime minister. He wouldn’t necessarily have to choose Davutoglu for the task, and should he oppose a coalition, could block the process by picking a loyalist unwilling to make a deal.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of Turkey’s main opposition party, the CHP, has repeatedly accused Erdogan of preventing Davutoglu from forming a coalition government after the inconclusive elections in June. The collapse of those talks coincided with a breakdown in a three-year truce with Kurdish militants, sparking a sharp selloff in the lira and Turkish stocks.

“We sat at the table for 10 days, but the eventual proposal we got was a three-month election government, not a coalition government,” CHP economy chief Selin Sayek-Boke said of the previous round of talks in an Oct. 13 interview. “There’s no guarantee it’ll be different this time.”

Nukhet Hotar, deputy chairwoman of the AK Party, told CNN-Turk television in an interview on Monday that if necessary, AK Party “must succeed in forming a coalition government” because “there will be no repeat of this election.” While officials from the ruling party have said they’re weighing a coalition with the CHP to avoid prolonged political deadlock, experience doesn’t bode well, according to William Jackson, senior emerging-market economist at Capital Economics in London.

Third Election?

“The experience following June’s election suggests that coalition talks can easily break down,” he said by e-mail on Oct. 22. “There is a not insignificant risk of a third election – probably more than just a tail risk.”

Even if Erdogan approves a coalition government, he could start calculating steps, including returning to the helm of the party, to gain “absolute power,” Ozcan said. “A likely coalition between the AKP and CHP will be prone to too many fault lines, from foreign policy to education and independence of the judiciary.”

The CHP insists on an overhaul of Turkey’s education system to put it back in line with secular principles, along with modifying Turkey’s foreign policy. Under Erdogan, ties with former allies including Israel, Syria, Egypt and the U.S. have become strained.

Ruling Alone

Erdogan could also derail a possible CHP-AKP government after its formation, “blaming the main opposition party for the failure of the coalition,” Anthony Skinner, an analyst with U.K.-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, said by e-mail on Oct. 20.

The ruling party, which surged to power as a new conservative, Islamist-rooted political force in 2002, has never had to share power. It needs a majority in the 550-seat legislature to rule alone, and is currently just shy of that with 257 seats.

Should the party fall short again, Erdogan “may spin the wheel again in 2016, with the aim of securing a slim parliamentary majority for the AKP,” Skinner said.

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