Turkish politics ahead of hot and tense summer

Turkish politics ahead of hot and tense summer

Turkey last held a general election on Nov. 1, 2015, granting the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a good majority to form a stable government. However, just six months after the polls, the AKP changed its leader, replacing Ahmet Davutoğlu with Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, as a result of a direct intervention from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The AKP formed a new government under Yıldırım with a new motivation to accelerate efforts for a systemic change in line with Erdoğan’s ambitions. The new prime minister delivered his first messages last week, stressing the fight against terrorism and the adoption of the presidential system as priorities of his government. He also called on all political parties to cooperate with the AKP on renewing the constitution, which would endorse the presidential system. If this is not possible, then they could undertake a limited constitutional change to allow the president to formally re-establish his ties with his political party. 

A bird-eye’s view of the positions of the three opposition parties says a lot about what one should expect in the upcoming period in Turkey. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has in recent months visibly hardened its opposition to the AKP and President Erdoğan, with its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu using a harsher language, especially against Erdoğan. Kılıçdaroğlu was subjected to an egg-throwing protest last week during the funeral of a fallen soldier in Ankara, which he suggested was an act to discourage him from attending the funerals of officials killed in the anti-terror fight, in line with the AKP’s plan to associate the CHP with terrorism.

Kılıçdaroğlu has made clear that this parliament will not grant an executive-presidential system to Erdoğan, reiterating that this project of the AKP cannot be pushed through without “spilling blood” in the country. He has also challenged the AKP over potential snap elections later this year. 

As for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s approval of the lifting of immunities will likely cause it serious trouble, as almost all of its lawmakers have multiple pending cases against them. The HDP is continuing its low-profile approach, in order to avoid complicating the already tense situation due to the ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Many in Ankara believe that the party is now losing the support it received from the western parts of the country, risking it dropping below the 10 percent threshold in any potential snap election. Like the CHP, the HDP continues to be strongly against granting any additional powers to President Erdoğan. 

The real action has been taking place on the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) front, which has gained a new dimension with the announcement that the party will hold an extraordinary convention on July 10.

Weeks-long judicial ambiguity was resolved on May 24, just hours after MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli also said his party would not give any kind of support to the government on a potential political system change, either comprehensive or limited. Bahçeli will fight against his four opponents, especially Meral Akşener and Sinan Oğan, to continue his leadership at the expense of damaging the already fragile unity of his party. The MHP, which has 40 seats in parliament, is facing important in-house turbulence in the coming weeks, which would result in the split of the nationalist opposition. 

A weakened MHP and a disgraced HDP would create a perfect scenario for the ruling party to call a snap election and reach Erdoğan’s target of “400 lawmakers” for the AKP, which would make any kind of constitutional amendment possible. In any case, it is going to be a hot and tense summer – which is something not very surprising for those who have long been observing Turkish politics.