The West’s election forecast: Weak AKP, weak Erdoğan

The West’s election forecast: Weak AKP, weak Erdoğan

The June 7 parliamentary elections are being followed with great interest by regional countries as well as Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States and the European Union. 

Turkey, located right in the middle of two great fault lines created by crisis-ridden Ukraine in the north and Syria in the south, is going to continue to play an important role in both theaters. It will continue to be the country whose door its Western allies go to in line with regional developments. That’s why a stable government respecting fundamental freedoms and democratic norms, as well as conducting a sound foreign policy, is very important in their eyes.  

My conversations with diplomats based in Ankara about the upcoming polls and their estimations give important clues on Western countries’ projections for the post-election era. Here are some of the most important points I have observed:

Justice and Development Party (AKP) still the winner: There is no doubt that the AKP is going to be the top party in the elections. However, it is widely estimated that the party’s vote share will drop below the 46 percent it won in last year’s municipal elections. According to many diplomats’ estimations, the AKP’s vote share will be between 40 and 42 percent.   

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over the threshold: The general expectation of diplomats is that the pro-Kurdish HDP will be able to pass the 10 percent threshold. Some even think the party could garner up to 11 percent of votes, which means it would be represented by 60 deputies in the next government. 

Presidential system nixed: In the event that these two expectations turn out to be true, the number of seats the AKP will have will be between 276 and 300. This would mean that it could still form a government, but it would fall short of launching an initiative on its own for the adoption of a presidential system. 

Coalition scenarios: Diplomats are also analyzing the possibility that the AKP’s loss of votes may even be higher than expected and the parliamentary composition would necessitate the formation of a coalition government. Given the current political climate, it would be difficult for the AKP to find a coalition partner, as none of the opposition parties want to be seen as a supporter of the ruling party. In such a case, a minority government to be formed by the AKP and backed informally by one of the opposition parties is seen as a bigger possibility. 

Early polls: If the result ends up producing a coalition or a minority government, early elections are inevitable, according to diplomats, expressing concerns that this set of circumstances could lead to fresh political tension and instability in the country. 

Erdoğan’s influence: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will feel less comfortable with an AKP government that has lost power and an important number of parliamentary seats. This is why Erdoğan himself has joined the election campaign. 

Erdoğan’s mistake: Diplomatic sources believe that one of the reasons why the AKP is losing votes – along with increasing government fatigue - is Erdoğan’s strategy to turn parliamentary elections into a referendum in which the presidential system, and therefore his career, will be voted on. Recalling that a majority of the Turkish people remains against changing to a presidential system, and that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is very reluctant to talk about the issue, sources describe this as Erdoğan’s mistake.       

In-house debates: Such a picture would lead an already existing disaccord between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to another dimension, which would also bring about in-house challenges in the AKP with no prospective results.   

Peace process, democratization: One issue of concern for foreign diplomats is the idea that the democratic instability in the country due to the AKP’s policies could also create institutional and political instability. In that case, many think that radical but necessary steps with regard to the Kurdish peace process, democratization and other fundamental issues, as well as recalibrating Turkey’s foreign policy, are unlikely to be taken.   

What Gül will do?: Although former President Abdullah Gül, one of founders of the AKP, recently denied all claims that he will return to active politics and form a new political party, diplomats in Ankara are still questioning the possibility of his return, as the post-election political situation might prompt off new searches. Given their estimations that the post-election era may lead to early polls, it should not be seen surprising that they are still eyeing Gül’s next step. 

Election safety: Along with all of these items, election safety is also an issue that foreign diplomats are dealing with. An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) team has already paid visits to political parties and conducted meetings in Turkey in order to have a better and a clearer picture. Three top shortcomings that the team has observed so far are President Erdoğan’s active (though unconstitutional) campaigning for the government, the media’s unfair coverage of political parties, and the ruling AKP benefiting from state means during the campaign.