Erdoğan reaps what he sowed
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attempt to impose his will on parliament after the elections is already faltering. He has invited the leaders of the parties that managed to get into parliament to separate meetings aimed at trying to discuss the nature of the coalition government to be formed. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have rejected this invitation outright on the grounds that it is irregular. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has also made clear it is against such an initiative.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli argues, with some justification, that under the present constitution, it is the president’s job in such cases to call in the leader of the party he believes has the best chance of forming a government and leave it up to him to negotiate with the leaders of other parties and potential coalition partners. If that leader fails in this mission, then the president calls in the leader of another party who he believes may be able to form a government. That, at any rate, is how the system has worked to date.
Erdoğan is clearly trying to play the role of the “guiding hand” here. However, the parties, except the Justice and Development Party (AKP), are unwilling to go along with this or do anything that might appear to empower Erdogan beyond his constitutional limits. Should they accept his invitation, it would put him in a role they do not want to grant him, vis-à-vis his seemingly all but defunct ambition to become an executive president.
There is also the added problem of the overly ostentation and gaudy presidential palace which all the parties, except the AKP, refuse to accept as the new seat of the president. It is not clear how Erdoğan will get any party leader, other than the leader of the AKP, to go there. The opposition leaders have all sworn to high heaven that they will not set foot in that palace. In addition, they want the presidency to return to its tradition place in Ankara’s Çankaya district - where it has been since the founding of the republic.
Even Deniz Baykal, the veteran CHP politician who is slated to become the speaker of parliament as the oldest member of the legislature, refused to go to the presidential palace when Erdoğan invited him after the elections, saying he would only meet the president on the condition that they meet somewhere else. The meeting was eventually held at the foreign ministry residence, also in Çankaya.
This whole matter looks like no more than a storm in a tea cup, and that is all that it would have been, if normal political circumstances prevailed in Turkey today. Whether it is irregular or not, most party leaders would have accepted an invitation by the president of the republic, believing that he or she was acting out of good faith and only concerned that a stable and workable coalition be formed as soon as possible so the country can get on with its business.
It is Erdoğan himself, though, who burned bridges and alienated the opposition by unabashedly campaigning for the AKP prior to the elections, having made no secret of his desire to see a strong turnout for the AKP in order to change the constitution and effectively make him Turkey’s sole leader. He has no one but himself to blame if the CHP, MHP and HDP want to firmly pen him within the constitutional bounds of the presidency and refuse him any possibility of playing a role beyond this.
What we have here is a simple case of reaping what you sow. Erdoğan has little choice now but to play by the book. Whether he will want to do so remains to be seen, of course, but the opposition parties appear determined to make sure that he does not have many options in this regard. Put another way, Erdoğan’s difficulties in a Turkey where the AKP is no longer the preeminent political force have already started.