Erdoğan’s Baykal move before Davutoğlu’s coalition talks

Erdoğan’s Baykal move before Davutoğlu’s coalition talks

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, not Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, made the first political move after the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its parliamentary majority in the recent election, meeting with Deniz Baykal, the former head of the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) on June 10.

It appears that Erdoğan sent a message to Baykal, who was in his constituency in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya on the night of June 9, after accepting the resignation of Davutoğlu (a routine) but also asking him to form a new government and stay in power until then. Baykal apparently did not respond immediately and asked CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu about it. The official invitation from the president’s office came in the morning and the appointment was set for 12.30 p.m. It was to be held at the residence of the foreign minister - currently used by Erdoğan - rather than in the controversial Presidential Palace, which the CHP does not recognize the legitimacy of. Baykal then took the first plane from Antalya to Ankara, where he and Erdoğan had a one-on-one meeting lasting more than two hours.

Baykal said afterwards that he “saw that Erdoğan was open to coalition possibilities.” He later told the Hürriyet Daily News that he did not in particular mean a coalition between the AK Parti and the CHP, but all combinations including the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).  Baykal’s most important message to Erdoğan was probably advising him not to force his constitutional limits, as voters demanded, and to encourage the parties to agree on a stable coalition government. 

It seems that after meeting with Baykal, Erdoğan might allow all coalition scenarios to be exhausted rather than push PM Davutoğlu and the AK Parti for an early election to try once again to shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system through an AK Parti majority (which didn’t emerge on June 7).

Before updating the positions of the political parties before Davutoğlu begins his tour to establish a coalition (or minority) government, one must recall the significance for Turkish politics of the first Erdoğan-Baykal meeting back in 2003.

At that time, Erdoğan had been banned from politics and was not a member of parliament, so he was not even able to lead his own party as prime minister. It was Baykal who let that happen through a constitutional amendment, thus allowing Erdoğan to lead the government. That move by Baykal changed the course of Turkish politics. 

Today, Erdoğan is the president and Baykal is set to open parliament as the most senior deputy, also serving as the temporary speaker until a new one is elected. It may be worth noting that the parliament speaker is the substitute for the president in the latter’s absence. 

Will this second meeting after 12 years change the course of Turkish politics again?

Here are the latest positions of the four parties in parliament before the start of coalition talks:

Davutoğlu’s first choice is an AK Parti minority government, but no other parties are likely to approve of this. 

His second best choice is a coalition with the MHP. But MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has two conditions for a coalition: Erdoğan should withdraw to his constitutional limits (and he should not be involved in daily government politics), and the Kurdish peace process (which Bahçeli describes as a “dissolution process”) should immediately be stopped. Davutoğlu rules out any coalition with the HDP and a coalition with the CHP is his least favored option.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s first choice is to remove the AK Parti from power through a coalition with the MHP. But the seats of the two parties do not add up to 276 seats, which is the necessary number to pass a vote of confidence. Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu’s least favored option is a coalition with the AK Parti.

The HDP, meanwhile, as its co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş has stated a number of times, wants to stay out of any coalition, but could give outside support to non-AK Parti options. On paper the HDP could support a CHP-MHP coalition, but the MHP would not like to be part of a coalition that survives thanks to the HDP, whose number one priority is a constitutional solution to the Kurdish problem. 

Kılıçdaroğlu, who ran under an election campaign slogan declaring “Vote them out,” will have great difficulties in explaining a coalition with Davutoğlu with the shadow of Erdoğan lurking behind him. The CHP head has the example of German and Greek social democrats eroding after joining coalitions with bigger conservative partners. On the other hand, Davutoğlu is aware that he must compromise on issues important to the other three parties, like the struggle against corruption. Essentially this would mean admitting the cases that he had to deny all along.

It is certainly not an easy puzzle to solve. But as Süleyman Demirel, the master of coalition politics in Turkey, once said, “There is always a solution on legitimate grounds.”