A set of tough battles for all
Whether it be the anti-terrorism struggle, the demand to extradite a Muslim cleric from the United States, or a decision by the Austrian government to close down some mosques, Turks love to describe almost every development as “existentially important.” But probably no other development, including the military operations in Syria and northern Iraq, are as important as the upcoming parliamentary and presidential twin elections that most analysts predict to be a close race.
Some 59 million voters will decide the fate not only of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but the future of democratic governance and even perhaps the place of Turkey in the global political and security setup. For the first time in 16 years Erdoğan himself created a trap for himself, mostly born out of his unceasing greed to collect all executive, legislative and judicial powers in his hands. He wanted to carry the country to an Erdoğan-style executive presidency with almost no checks or balances.
Alarmed by his and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) sliding popularity, Erdoğan pushed through last-minute changes in the constitution and the election law that allowed parties to establish election alliances. He was hoping to comfortably leave behind all challengers by aligning with the embattled and strife-ridden Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). However, the same legislative framework enabled the opposition parties to unite and reinvigorate. Strategic tactics for the opposition to nominate a joint candidate - like Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu in 2014 – were suggested, and if the opposition had agreed to make Abdullah Gül their joint candidate his defeat would have finally eradicated him and his influence in the ruling AKP altogether. In the end, Erdoğan now has not one but two credible and serious competitors, who are working to negate his long-time rhetoric that he is Turkey’s leader and there is no alternative.
Turkish law prohibits reporting on public opinion polls in this last week of the campaign, but there can be no restrictions in forecasting that the fight for the presidency may not be completed on the night of June 24, meaning that there may be a second round of voting on July 8.
Parliamentary victory appears to be within the grasp of the opposition parties, depending on the electoral performance of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and if it can get over the 10 percent national threshold. That appears highly possible, despite the fact that many deputies and leaders of the party, including its presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, are currently in jail prison.
If Erdoğan wins the presidency but the AKP loses its parliamentary majority, an era of difficult cohabitation will start in the country. Because dissolving parliament would terminate the presidential tenure as well, it may not be as easy for the incumbent as it was in 2015 to force a repeat election. And even if the AKP-MHP alliance manages to obtain a parliamentary majority, unless the AKP’s own deputies exceed 300 – half of the new 600-seat unicameral house – Turkey will again experience an uneasy coalition experience between the two parties.
Could the vote put an end to the unabated Erdoğan rule that has continued since 2003? Even if it does, because of the rather divergent priorities of the opposition parties it will not be easy for the opposition to establish a harmonious government and steer the country back to a parliamentary governance system.
Obviously, irrespective of who wins the faltering economy and suffocating Turkish Lira ought to be the priorities of the administration. But in any case, can anyone claim that it is shrinking rights and liberties and not the badly failing economy that has forced Turks to start thinking beyond Erdoğan? Will voters think about the consequences of an Erdoğan victory on ties with the U.S., Europe, and probable adventures in Syria and Iraq? In sum, will they vote for fresh faces and a new team?