Parliamentary speaker elections: A litmus test for a coalition?

Parliamentary speaker elections: A litmus test for a coalition?

In a ceremony in Istanbul on June 21 where Reza Zarrab, the Iranian-Turkish businessman who had been accused of bribing four Turkish ministers, was awarded as one of the most successful exporters of Turkey, President Tayyip Erdoğan urged once again for the parties to form a coalition quickly or he would call for early elections.

It is actually a call meant for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, also the chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which had lost its majority in the Turkish parliament in the June 7 election but is still the leading one.

The new parliament is to convene on June 23. By tradition, the president could have given it before the convention or even right after it, but Erdoğan said he would wait for the election of the parliamentary speaker.

The speaker, according to the constitution, is the substitute for the president in his absence. By this move, Erdoğan made the election of the speaker a test case for the coalition. It is obvious that whoever is going to shake hands with Davutoğlu is likely to vote for the speaker he would support as well; regardless of which party he or she is from.

Then the 45-day period will start. But since Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has categorically rejected an offer from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), all CHP-MHP scenarios have been dropped. The MHP did not want to be in any combination with the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whether it should be supported from outside.

Bahçeli made another move over the weekend by proposing Nov. 15 as the early election date (Erdoğan likes to call it a “repeat election”) instead of forming a fragile one of short duration. But that option is not favored by all, since there is no guarantee it would produce a radically different result. Plus, it would make the newly elected members of parliament extremely unhappy. Davutoğlu and Kılıçdaroğlu do not want it like the business community, whose spokespersons keep saying that two elections in six months could over compress the already shrinking economy.

That leaves Turkey with two possible coalition scenarios, before the last option of another election:

1- An AK Parti-CHP coalition.

2- An AK Parti-MHP coalition.

One of the MHP’s conditions for a coalition is for the Erdoğan-initiated talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political solution to the chronic Kurdish problem to cease. The talks have been frozen since the election campaign and it was among the main reasons why some Kurds opted for the HDP instead of the AK Parti. Bahçeli suggested that such a coalition should aim for an early election, too.

There is the additional factor of Syria. The Kurdish forces, led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in line with the PKK, have been in active fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. But the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu administration is worried the Kurds have been taking that opportunity to stage their own plan to form an autonomous zone for themselves along the Turkish border. A number of pro-government papers said the PYD was more dangerous than ISIL in their headlines, and also winked at a possible MHP coalition. 

Yet, Nail Olpak, the head of the conservative bosses club MÜSİAD, which is near the government, told Hürriyet they favor neither an early election, nor a short-term coalition, but a long-term, stable one. For Olpak, it could be easier for the AK Parti to come to terms with the MHP, but a coalition with the CHP could have a longer life, which they’d favor.

There is another dimension to the coalition combinations. An AK Parti-MHP coalition would be between a conservative and a nationalist party, i.e. on the right of the political spectrum, against two on the rather left; that could further agitate the political polarization in Turkey. An AK Parti-CHP one would be between a conservative and a social democratic party, which would force both of them to compromise.

Davutoğlu knows that but he doesn’t want the “rotating prime ministers” formula of Kılıçdaroğlu, who in return says it could be a way to overcome the deep trust issues between the two parties.

Could the election of the parliament speaker be a middle ground solution? When Erdoğan talked to Deniz Baykal, the former CHP leader who is expected to open parliament June 23 as the most senior MP, the possibility of having a speaker from the CHP had been discussed in the political backstage with no confirmation or denial.

The election of the parliamentary speaker could really be a test case for a possible coalition.  

A final note about the ceremony mentioned in the intro: The four ministers were excluded from the cabinet by Erdoğan when the graft probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, were launched. Their files had been dropped by the dominating AK Parti votes in parliament before the elections. As Zarrab was being awarded, the prosecutors and police officers who carried out the probes were under prosecution. The reopening of the files of those four ministers (including the former economy minister) after the June 7 election, where the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority, is one of the key debates between them and the other parties in coalition talks.