This article was published in Arab News on July 1, 2018.
KP’s power to be constrained by coalition partner
The possible effects of Turkey’s June 24 elections will require a significant volume of comments in the coming weeks and months, perhaps even years. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his mandate, this time as the president of a country ruled by a presidential system. Turkey is not equipped with the required mechanisms that will allow this system to function smoothly.
Turkey’s presidential system is inspired by various models, including the US, but the American system is based on a strong checks-and-balances mechanism. In Turkey, the president is the nationwide leader of his party and holds the ultimate authority for the designation of its candidates in every constituency. The US president is not the chairman of a political party and has no authority over the election of congressmen.
Another important component of the checks and balances in the US is the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary in the US has been demonstrated on several occasions. In Turkey, the judiciary is severely politicized and opinion polls show a continuous decline of trust in it.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 293 seats in last month’s parliamentary election, falling short of an absolute majority in a parliament of 600 seats. The government’s capacity to pass laws is therefore constrained to a large extent. The ruling party’s closest ally is the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has 49 seats and with whom the AKP made an election coalition to campaign together. The MHP owes its entry to parliament to this coalition, because it might have been left out without it. But this is a reciprocal reliance — the ruling party needs the MHP’s support to pass any laws.
Former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit introduced a highly detested practice in Turkey’s political history. When he was short of a majority by 11 seats in the parliament of 1977, he created 11 new ministerial posts and persuaded 11 MPs from another party to join his, allowing him to form a government, although it was very short-lived. One can only wish that such an unorthodox method will never be used again. Ecevit admitted one year later that this incident brought about his party’s end. Two of the ministers transferred were later jailed on corruption charges.
The most likely group that may lend support to the ruling party is the MHP, but it will only do so, most probably, for initiatives that are in line with its ideology. The MHP has a relatively hard line on three important policies: The Kurdish issue, Turkey’s EU accession, and its support for Turkmen in Syria and Iraq.
Ruling AKP party’s freedom will be constrained in various areas as long as it has to rely on coalition partner MHP for support.
Turkey has to solve its Kurdish problem at once. The more it is delayed, the more complicated it will become. The MHP holds the hardest line on this issue in the entire political spectrum and does not seem to be prepared to show flexibility.
In 2014, then-Prime Minister Erdogan initiated a process called “Democratic Opening” because the government did not want to give the impression that it was only designed to solve the question of the democratic rights and freedoms of Kurds. Despite this chocolate coating, it was also known as the “Kurdish Opening” because basically it was meant for the Kurds, or the Dolmabahce Process, because meetings with the Kurdish leaders were held in the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. This process was abandoned after the 2015 elections, mainly because the ruling AKP was reduced to a minority in parliament and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) made a big leap forward to become the third-largest party.
If the AKP was to exceed 300 seats in parliament, it might try once more to solve the Kurdish problem with a corollary of the Democratic Opening framework. It could receive support from other parties and make the necessary legislative adjustments with a stronger majority, but it will be reticent to take such a risk now because it does not want to antagonize the MHP. The latter may even push the government to be tougher not only toward Kurds in Turkey, but also in Syria.
The second issue is Turkey’s EU accession. The MHP displays a rigid attitude toward the EU for fear of diluting Turkey’s national identity, while the AKP government is eager to revive the moribund Turkey-EU relations. But again it may be hesitate to take a step that would raise MHP objections.
Third, the MHP holds an inflexible attitude on the status of ethnic Turkmen minorities in Syria and Iraq. As the situation is expected to move toward stabilization in these two countries in the years ahead, the AKP government may be pushed by the MHP to follow a more nationalist line on this subject.
Therefore, the AKP’s freedom of action will be constrained in various areas as long as the composition of parliament remains unchanged.