Turkey’s AK Party Weighs CHP Coalition to Avoid Deadlock

  • MHP isn't willing to make concessions to join coalition
  • Cost of taking country to third election `too high': analyst

Turkey’s AK Party is weighing a possible coalition with the country’s biggest opposition party should next month’s election lead to another hung parliament, a move that may restore a measure of stability to a country swept by violence and political turmoil.

AKP is warming to the idea of allying with the secularist CHP because its preferred choice, the nationalist MHP, isn’t willing to give up demands to limit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers and revive a corruption probe of members of his inner circle, party officials said. Four CHP officials said their leaders are willing to show flexibility on key issues to join the government. Officials from the two groups spoke on condition of anonymity, citing private deliberations.

A coalition deal would be unprecedented for the Islamic-rooted AKP, which had ruled Turkey with a single-party government since it came to power in 2002 before losing its parliamentary majority in June balloting. Efforts to form a coalition after that vote failed.

Cost High

“The political cost of taking the country to a third election is too high,” Mehmet Sahin, deputy chairman of the Ankara-based Institute of Strategic Thinking, said by phone. “The AKP would have no other option other than forming a coalition with the CHP,” unless the MHP reverses its position, he said.

The CHP officials said the party isn’t focusing on the pursuit of corruption probes against former AKP cabinet ministers, an issue they say is better left to independent courts. It’s not immediately clear, though, how the two parties would reach a deal on the extent of Erdogan’s powers. The president wants to change the constitution to shift the center of power from parliament to his office, an ambition that all of the major opposition parties oppose.

With polls suggesting another inconclusive election on Nov. 1, an alliance between AKP and the secular CHP could reassure investors spooked by the country’s political turbulence. The lira appreciated 0.3 percent to 2.8959 a dollar at 5:40 p.m. in Istanbul, after advancing as much as 0.7 percent. The currency trimmed its losses this year to about 19 percent.

The CHP, which is expected to become the second-largest party in parliament after AKP in November, last served in a coalition government 20 years ago. Its “hunger for power” may dictate an alliance with AKP, Sahin said.

Erdogan Approval

“AKP and CHP have been watching their words in public comments about each other lately,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, a political analyst with the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara, said by phone on Monday. “Yet any attempt to build a coalition with AKP can’t make progress without Erdogan’s tacit approval. That’s the key.”

Devlet Bahceli, head of the MHP, insisted in an Oct. 15 interview with Show television that his party would only join a coalition government if “its conditions are met,” including curbing Erdogan’s executive powers.

“It is difficult to envisage Erdogan supporting a coalition agreement which is based on his withdrawal from day-to-day politics,” Anthony Skinner, an analyst with U.K.-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, said Tuesday by e-mail. “Retaining power and control is not just about Erdogan’s personal ambition and sense of entitlement, it is ultimately a matter of survival for him and his inner circle.”

Another hung parliament would make AKP more vulnerable to opposition demands to reopen corruption investigations against four former AKP ministers cleared of graft charges by the parliament in January. Prosecutors also dropped a graft case against 96 suspects, including Erdogan’s son, Bilal Erdogan, after hundreds of audio recordings suggesting political corruption were posted on social media. The authenticity of the recordings hasn’t been verified.

Security Concerns

The elections come at a time of deepening political polarization and security concerns. Clashes between autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants and security forces intensified after the June election, when a pro-Kurdish party won representation in parliament for the first time, depriving AKP of its majority. The death toll has reached the hundreds in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, and at least 102 people, including many Kurds, were killed this month in Ankara in the country’s deadliest terrorist attack, blamed on Islamic State.

MHP opposes restarting indirect peace talks with PKK, while AKP and CHP agree on the need to end the three-decade war in the region.

“In the case of a hung parliament, a coalition between AKP and CHP is more likely than a coalition with the MHP, particularly in light of the public’s growing demands for security and restarting the resolution process with the PKK,” Naz Masraff, director for Europe at Eurasia Group in London, said by e-mail on Monday. Even so, structural economic reforms to spur more robust growth are unlikely because the coalition would probably unravel within two years due to serious social and cultural differences between AKP and CHP, Masraff said.

Interim prime minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that his only aim is to regain the parliamentary majority needed to form a single-party government.

“There is no coalition on my agenda,” he said in an interview with AHaber television.

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