Ankara (GPA) – The Turkey election results are in and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will remain president but without his parliamentary majority.
The Turkey election for both President, as well as all the seats of parliament, took place on Sunday. In what was expected to be a tight election – with some even speculating there would be a second round of voting in the race for President – it now seems that the President will remain the same but face some renewed opposition in parliament. Here is what some of this could mean for Turkish politics going forward:
Turkey Election Results: What do they mean?
Turkey election about the Imperial Presidency
We will discuss what the parliamentary results mean later but the most important thing to cover first is the race for President. While having a parliamentary majority would be nice for the incumbent President and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main priority of this election for the party overall was ensuring Erdogan’s victory in the race for President.
When it came to the race for President in Turkey, there was really only one issue that most citizens went to vote on. This overshadowing issue is the new powers guaranteed to the next President of Turkey which were approved in a [still-contended] constitutional referendum in 2017 which only passed by about 1.4%. The referendum guaranteed a host of new powers for the President, which would also abolish the position of Prime Minister and see those powers absorbed by the single executive position (although there will be between one and three new Vice-Presidential positions created).
With these new powers of the combined offices, Erdogan will have solitary control of Turkey’s budget and can draft his own plans for Turkey’s economy. He has already started making promises to use this new ability to manipulate the Turkish economy in the lead up to the election and also stated that he would order a change in interests rates set by the Turkish central bank. Whether this is a good idea or not seems debatable and Erdogan’s remarks concerning the economy in the past several weeks were among several factors that helped sink his currency to record lows.
After this election, Erdogan will also have more freedom in the appointment of more government positions including certain ministerial positions as well as judicial appointments including judges and prosecutors. Much like manipulating the economy, Erdogan has also already been acting like he thinks he has this power and has been using the state of emergency put in place after the 2016 coup attempt to fire and arrest judges, prosecutors, civil servants, ministers, police, military leaders, teachers and whoever else he deems a “terrorist.” Erdogan promised to lift this state of emergency after the election but as many observers have stated, it won’t really matter with these new constitutionally guaranteed powers.
The only way anyone will be able to stop Erdogan from now on will be with the new power of impeachment given to the parliament. The problem with this new power is that it would require the opposition to get two-thirds of MPs to vote for it, which the AKP’s numbers – while possibly not a majority – still prevent.
This election also took place under some of the constitutional changes that have already gone into effect. This primarily includes changes to electoral laws such as the controversial new rule that ballots will no longer be sealed for verification.
Other election laws that were changed include the schedules of elections so now all elections for President and Parliament fall on the same day every 5 years and limit the president to two terms. These changes to the election schedules also void all current members of governments terms and give everyone a fresh start, meaning Erdogan’s current term did not count towards his two-term limit. This means he has the ability to possibly remain as president until 2028.
Erdogan has also secured unprecedented control of the Turkish military in the years following the coup, giving him an influence over its leadership that no leader has had since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey (but also a military leader so it made sense). With the post-coup purges of the military’s top leadership, Erdogan has brought the military under his control by stacking the top ranks with allies who owe their position solely to him.
So, as far as Turkey’s neighbors should be concerned, it seems Erdogan’s military campaigns in Syria and Iraq are set to continue. During some victory speeches, AKP members even said as much, saying they would continue to fight the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). This likely means Syria can expect continued occupation by Turkey (now in cooperation with the US) and the new campaign in the Qandil region of Iraq.
These operations seem to now be mainstays of Erdogan’s political strategy. The operation in Qandil was announced just days before the election and likely helped AKP in the polls with nationalists and those who oppose Kurdish separatists.
However, not all of the country is behind Erdogan. He may have the Presidency but many Turks obviously oppose his domestic and foreign policy and don’t want to see him with more power. Erdogan would likely say that isn’t true but there is evidence for it in the results of the parliamentary elections.
Turkey election splits parliament yet AKP coalition holds
One surprising outcome of the Turkey election is that, despite winning the Presidency, Erdogan seemingly hasn’t carried the AKP’s parliamentary candidates with him. While at the time of this writing it is unclear the exact number of seats the AKP is going to take in Parliament, it does seem like they will no longer have a majority. However, his coalition partners in the MHP have taken enough votes to carry the AKP’s majority.
Turkey elections: State-run Anadolu Agency reports the pro-Kurdish HDP has reached the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. #Secim2018
— Erin Cunningham (@erinmcunningham) June 24, 2018
The new constitution allows Erdogan to remain as the head of the AKP (instead of being independent of them as was previously the case) and he will have more direct control of the group’s agenda, this won’t be worth as much without his majority.
As of the time of publishing for this article, the latest projections now have the AKP down from their previous 316 seats in parliament to somewhere between 298 and 300.
Another surprising result is the re-emergence of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which has seen some success in the wake of growing distrust of all major Turkish parties in primarily Kurdish regions. Although the HDP’s presidential candidate was in prison (and wasn’t going to win anyway) the party is expected to pass the ten percent threshold to join in the Grand National Assembly.
There is also the case of the other nationalist party, the iYi (Good) Party, which is lead by MHP defector Meral Akşener who opposes her former parties alliance with the AKP and the constitutional changes. While Aksener wasn’t expected to win the Presidency, it is still likely she pulled some of the nationalist votes away from the AKP/CHP coalition. It now seems that iYi may also cross the ten percent mark and join in the opposition to Erdogan.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), is also likely to pick up some seats after seeing a wave of support for their Presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince who held a rally for an estimated two million people last week. If the Presidential election had gone to a second round, most of the smaller opposition parties had promised to back Ince which also seems to signal that the opposition in Parliament is going to be unified in their resistance to the AKP.
Yet even with this unified resistance to Erdogan, the new parliamentarians will need to stay on their toes to avoid the newly-strengthened President and his old tricks for stifling critics. Erdogan has no problem arresting opposition politicians whether they are still running for office or when they’re already serving in government; Erdogan can come at any time.
The big picture of all of the Turkey election is that Erdogan still retains his dominance over Turkey’s path that he has since 2016. What happens next will be up to the will of Erdogan, which is also embodied by the AKP MPs. We may soon see an end to the state of emergency (although Erdogan’s new powers cancel out some of the benefits of this development) and we could see a challenge to more AKP domestic policies. Turkey has spoken, and although Erdogan is still President, the opposition once at least packs some punch.