Turkey election: AK Party and Erdogan forced to regroup

After 13 years of single-party rule, the power structure has been changed

Turkey looks set for weeks of political wrangling with no party gaining enough seats to rule alone following Sunday's unexpected parliamentary election result.

Observers say a snap poll may be held in the coming months, with little appetite among key parties to form a coalition government. However, once a mandate is given by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to form a new government, Turkey's prime minister will have six weeks to do so. It must now include more than a single party, a first in the AK Party government era.

Should the government be formed, the AK Party would undoubtedly be part of it, but it would no longer enjoy free reign to amend and introduce laws.

With a turnout of more than 86 per cent, the election is being regarded as a triumph for Turkey's wavering democratic credentials, in no small part brought about by the emergence of the Peoples' Democratic Party or HDP.


The HDP has reached out to both secular, progressive Turks as well as to its Kurdish roots, from where it won over many former AK Party voters.

The HDP will have 31 women in its new 80-seat parliamentary bloc, as well as two Christians and two Yazidis.

Measured tones

HDP co-chair

Selahattin Dermitas

, who in 2010 was sentenced to prison for alleged links to Kurdish militants, sought throughout the campaign to avoid the virulent attacks that have dominated Turkish election campaigning for more than a decade.

“I voted for them [HDP] mainly because I wanted to see a Kurdish party in parliament, but also to help stop the AK Party,” said Ali Alper Alemdar (26), a recent university graduate, who thinks a coalition government is the most likely course of progress.

The election was viewed as a vote on Erdogan and the AK Party he was a founder and member of until his taking-up of the presidency last August. Both Erdogan and the party sought to establish a presidential system that would see power lie in the hands of one person.

Defeated in this goal, however, Erdogan – who remains popular with millions – struck a mostly conciliatory tone, before warning: “It is of vital importance that all political parties show the necessary sensitivity and display responsible behaviour in this new process . . . to preserve the stability and atmosphere of trust,” the semi-official news agency Anadolu Agency reported him saying.

Following the election, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Turkey’s third-largest party and the only other to see a gain in popular support, rounded on Erdogan saying, “he must remain within the constitutional confines of his role or he should consider resignation”.

Political crossroads

“Not only is Turkey at a crossroad, with 13 years of single-party rule coming to an end,” said Louis Fishman, an observer of Turkish politics and lecturer at the City University of New York, “but the AK Party is as well. It will need to choose whether it will remain tied to Erdogan’s presidency plans, or will implement party reforms to restore trust in the party.”

What’s clear from Sunday’s vote is that Turks were faced with two differing messages: the AK Party through Erdogan sought to portray its opponents as “representatives of sedation”. The leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the HDP, however, refrained from mud-slinging, with the latter in particular rewarded for its mature and refreshing campaign approach.

Even as two supporters were killed in the bombing of a rally in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir last Friday night, Demirtas called for calm, as he did again following his party’s successful election result.

But few in the Kurdish districts of Istanbul could contain their joy on Sunday night. Traditional folk dancing sessions were held in poorly lit suburban squares while young men played the tambur, an oud-type instrument on moving vans.

There was defiance, too. Several cars in Yenidogan, a predominantly Kurdish area in eastern Istanbul, flew posters embossed with the image of jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is considered a terrorist by Ankara, the US government and the European Union.

When a car filled with youths chanting support for the HDP sped through an intersection late on Sunday night, a woman standing on a nearby footpath responded with “AKP, AKP!” to the surprise of onlookers.

Uncharted territory

According to analyst Fishman, the AK Party and Erdogan are entering uncharted territory that may result in a new course for the party.

“The elections have pulled the rug out from under Erdogan’s plans for a super-presidency.

“It provided the best answer to the AKP’s campaign of hate against the HDP. If it remains tied to Erdogan it could very well lead Turkey to new parliamentary elections in the near future.”