The AKP, CHP and Erdoğan fronts

The AKP, CHP and Erdoğan fronts

Its one-and-a-half months since the general election, in which the conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its power in parliament to establish a government of its own. But Turkey still doesn’t yet have a new government.

It took a month for President Tayyip Erdoğan to finally give the mandate to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to establish a coalition, as the AK Parti still has the largest group in parliament. It then took a week for Davutoğlu to complete the first round of talks, which he described as “exploratory,” before a break for the Ramadan feast, or Eid al-Fitr.

Davutoğlu said during a live interview broadcast on NTV show before the break that the exploratory coalition talks had seen most progress with the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). But the most probable alternative is still a re-run of the election, as the constitution suggests fresh elections if no government can secure a vote of confidence within 45 days of the mandate being given. The deadline for that is Aug. 23.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) seem not to be viable partners for the AK Parti under current circumstances, and there are no grounds for a non-AK Parti coalition led by the CHP. 

So the most important actors as Turkey starts another political week are Ahmet Davutoğlu of the AK Parti, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the CHP, and President Erdoğan. Here are the latest positions of these actors ahead of the “second round” of Davutoğlu’s talks:

The Davutoğlu front: The prime minister’s first choice and priority is a coalition government, being aware of the fact that he would have to give some key ministries to the CHP, possibly including the foreign, finance, labor and education ministries. In fact, the only contact prior to the talks was between the AK Parti and the CHP. Answering a question during the NTV interview, Davutoğlu denied that the AK Parti’s grassroots would resist the idea of partnering with the CHP, though they might prefer the MHP. 

He also claimed that in any re-election the AK Parti could exceed the 276 seats needed to win a majority in the 550-seat parliament to establish its own government, but he is still not 100 percent sure about this. Erdoğan’s recent stance against the Kurdish peace bid – which was actually initiated by Erdoğan himself - could attract some votes from the MHP but lose more votes to the HDP, especially in eastern and southeastern provinces. Davutoğlu therefore thinks that a coalition could be possible if Kılıçdaroğlu is not too demanding, at least in public, during talks.

The Kılıçdaroğlu front: After insisting for weeks for a non-AK Parti coalition, Kılıçdaroğlu has unlocked the CHP doors for a coalition under the AK Parti, listing his “14 principles” for forming a government. Davutoğlu has said he could accept seven or eight of these principles right away and discuss three or four of them, but there could be difficulties about one or two. Those difficulties presumably relate to President Erdoğan’s interference in government affairs. 

Kılıçdaroğlu seems to have raised the issue of a “rotating prime ministry” system, with the option of staying out of this system himself in order to tell in-party opposition that he is not holding coalition talks just to secure a chair for himself, but rather for the good of the country. “We need explain to our grassroots why we are involved, if we agree on a partnership, and why we have refrained if we don’t agree. We don’t want to be the one accused of ruining the possibility of a government,” Kılıçdaroğlu has reportedly told his close colleagues. He also thinks that even if they can agree with Davutoğlu, President Erdoğan might block the coalition in order to drag the country to a fresh election.

The Erdoğan front: Erdoğan is obviously not happy with the June 7 election results, after making it clear during his campaign in support of the AK Parti that his target of changing the parliamentary system into a strong presidential one was on the ballot. If a coalition government can be formed it would become practically impossible for Erdoğan to get involved in daily government affairs, unlike in a single-party AK Parti government - at least without causing a major rift between the coalition partners. Despite paying lip service by saying he wants a coalition government to be formed as soon as possible, Erdoğan has also highlighted the need of a re-run election. For example, he does not want his authority be questioned during the G-20 Summit in Turkey in November. 

There is another issue in which Erdoğan is putting indirect pressure on Davutoğlu. If a government is not possible by Aug. 23, a “pre-election government” must be set up by the president, with all four parties represented in proportion to their number of seats. But Erdoğan doesn’t want to be the one to appoint ministers from the HDP, worrying that this could work against him and the AK Parti in a re-election. That’s why he would like to see Davutoğlu establish a AK Parti minority government, with no HDP in it, in order to take Turkey to another election, perhaps even earlier than November.

Under the current circumstances, it seems that it is Erdoğan who will determine the fate of the ongoing coalition talks, despite the legal reality that it is Davutoğlu who is carrying them out.