Can Davutoğlu drop Turkey’s Kurdish bid for an MHP coalition?

Can Davutoğlu drop Turkey’s Kurdish bid for an MHP coalition?

A group of parliamentary deputies called on the Turkish government to resume the Kurdish peace bid immediately on July 3, after the peace process was shelved two months before the June 7 general election campaign.

The deputies are members of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who had been mediating between the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). That process had started in 2012, after being initiated by (then prime minister, now president) Tayyip Erdoğan. In their call, the deputies also requested permission to visit Öcalan in İmralı Island prison, in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul, in order to conduct post-election consultations, which they have been unable to do since the freezing of the peace process back in April.

The MPs also raised their concerns about the possibility of a Turkish military operation against the Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria along the border. The message carried a hidden threat that the HDP could stir public demonstrations in border cities against the recent military build-up in the area, which the government has explained as a measure against possible threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Syria.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a TV interview on July 2 that there was no plan to enter Syria unilaterally, but it could retaliate if attacked.

Davutoğlu is actually heading for a crossroads that he wants to postpone for as long as possible, at least until the first week of August. On Aug. 1-4, Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meetings are due to take place, during which the Turkish military’s top command will change. The current Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel, who is known to be against a unilateral military operation into Syria, is expected to retire soon due to age. This could shift the ground.

Meanwhile, in order not to give a wrong message to either the military or the opposition parties, which he will visit for coalition talks next week, Davutoğlu reappointed a senior figure, Vecdi Gönül, as defense minister, after Gönül’s successor İsmet Yılmaz was elected as the speaker of parliament last week.

HDP sources say they had approached the government before making their statement but got an unofficial response that before Davutoğlu’s coalition partner is made clear the process cannot resume.

That actually explains a lot. Davutoğlu has two viable options for a coalition: Either with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), or with Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Bahçeli’s first condition for a coalition with Davutoğlu is to stop the Kurdish solution bid, which he sees as the recipe for the disintegration of Turkey. The MHP head also seems to be going for early elections, regardless of whether or not his party is in the coalition.

Davutoğlu knows that dropping the Kurdish bid could damage his party through the loss of conservative Kurdish votes, but it could also damage Turkey itself, as the PKK shares similar grassroots with the HDP and could resume its attacks, which have been halted since 2012. That could complicate Turkey’s security problems, at a time when the situation in neighboring Syria and Iraq is deteriorating further with the clashes between ISIL and PKK affiliates.

On the other hand, if Davutoğlu resumes talks with the PKK right now, it would put an end to chances of a coalition with the MHP while also weakening the AK Parti’s hand with regard to coalition talks with the CHP.

The question now is whether Davutoğlu could drop Turkey’s Kurdish bid in order to enter a coalition with the MHP.

The alternatives to this are either a coalition with the CHP or heading to yet another election later this year.