Flexing muscles at home, in the neighborhood

Flexing muscles at home, in the neighborhood

One of the sharp qualities of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan in politics is his ability to reduce every complicated problem into one known equation and try to solve that as it is.

This might be a simplistic approach to politics in today’s world, but it has worked for him during his 20-plus years in politics.

Observing what is happening in and around Turkey nowadays, one could see the way he reduced the results of the June 7 elections when the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its ability in parliament to form a government of its own.

If the AK Parti had won 276 of 550 seats, Erdoğan’s scenario would have been to operate a de facto presidential model within a parliamentary system. If the AK Parti had won 330 seats, then it would have been possible to go to a referendum to make it de jure.

So, it’s possible that Erdoğan asked himself what had prevented him from exercising full executive power. The answer is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish issue. They party exceeded the 10 percent national threshold to get 80 seats in parliament, winning a lot of votes, especially in the predominantly Kurdish east and southeast, which had previously gone to the AK Parti in previous election but went to the HDP on June 7.

Therefore, the cure must have seemed pretty clear: If the HDP can be pushed back under the 10 percent threshold in a new election, the AK Parti can rise again and the problem can be solved.

The HDP used to play a key role in the talks initiated by Erdoğan when he was the prime minister in 2012 between the AK Parti government and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), by shuttling among Öcalan, the government and the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. But the relaxed atmosphere of the talks were put on hold before the start of the election campaign.

And after the election, both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s AK Parti government and the HDP started to escalate the tone of their speech against each other, accusing each other of killing the “peace process.”

Of course the PKK was not helpful at all. Claiming responsibility for the murder of two police officers in their beds on July 22 in Ceylanpınar, after killing a soldier in Adıyaman on July 20, the day a suicide bomber of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) killed 32 (including himself) in the border town of Suruç, especially prompted a harsh reaction by the Davutoğlu government.

The government carried out air and artillery raids against both ISIL positions in Syria and PKK positions in Iraq, while detaining hundreds of suspected members in many towns and cities of Turkey.

Those high-level security operations have been carried out concomitantly with two important developments. First, Turkey agreed to open its air bases for the use of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. There is a certain displeasure at Turkey because it has hit the PKK which, together with its sister Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, has been resisting ISIL attacks. But Turkey’s opening up of the İncirlik air base is a strategic gain for the U.S.

Second, they have come in the middle of coalition talks with the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). If the talks fail, the country is likely to go to another election where the AK Parti is likely to do everything possible to ensure the HDP receives fewer votes so that it will not block a single-party government once more, and thus Erdoğan’s de facto presidential system.

There might be surprise, last-minute talks between the AK Parti and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) since the recent muscle-flexing by the government is something very close to what the MHP has been asking for in recent months.

A careful observer should expect more rabbits out of the hat in the ever-surprising Turkish political scene.