Turkey's parliamentary race: New deadlock coming?

Bassem Aly , Saturday 31 Oct 2015

After June elections failed to give Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party the majority it wanted, fresh elections start Sunday. But according to some analysts, the outcome could be much the same

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, center, and the main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu shake hands during a ceremony on Republic Day in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 (Photo: AP)

For the second time in five months, Turkey will cast votes for a new parliament Sunday, hoping to end a political deadlock that has existed since June.

In the last elections neither the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) nor other political parties managed to secure enough seats to form a government alone.

The JDP received the highest number of votes at 48.86 percent (258 seats). The Republican People’s Party (RPP) came second with 24.9 percent (132 seats), with the Nationalist Movement Party (NMP) coming third with 16.29 percent (80 seats). The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) took fourth place with 13.12 percent (80 seats).

Perhaps the biggest loser in June was the president. As the JDP failed to gain an absolute majority, its former leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lost the chance to achieve his ambition of increasing his presidential powers through amending the constitution. 

The JDP's gaining 330 seats in the 550-seat parliament could have been enough for Erdogan to change the constitution, yet only after holding a public referendum. To avoid the referendum step, the JDP needed to win a two-thirds majority of 367 seatsThe party, however, didn't achieve either.

Moreover, political talks among party leaders produced no coalition government, making snap polls the only possible way out of the crisis. But what if fresh elections produce the same deadlock?

According to Aykan Erdemir, political science professor at Bilkent University, the elections will probably produce a similar outcome, while Erdogan might fail, this time, in stopping current JDP leader Ahmet Davutoglu from entering into talks on a coalition government, and indeed forming one.

"Turkey will see more or less similar results to the June elections. The NMP might lose some votes and the RPP might gain extra votes, but the distribution of seats will not be much different," the ex-RPP parliamentarian told Ahram Online.

It is no secret that these elections are coming amid turbulent times in Turkish politics. Erdogan has increasingly faced accusations of imposing his grip on the state. The most recent accusations concerned the media.  

Police forces raided Kozi-Ipek, a media group linked to anti-JDP preacher Fethullah Gulen, Wednesday, coming but days ahead of the elections. This followed a court order to appoint an administration to manage the group as part of a wider "terrorism" investigation against Gulen and his followers.

This is not the first incident that is related to Gulen. In December 2014, police forces raided Turkey's Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu (STV) channel, detaining tens of journalists and workers. Those detained were charged with conspiring to overthrow Erdogan

Gulen used to be a strong backer of Erdogan, providing him with the support of his Hizmet Movement in consecutive electoral races. The Erdogan-Gulen relationship started to sour after a corruption scandal in December 2013 that led to the resignation of three ministers.

Erdogan accused Gulen of pushing the matter to weaken Erdogan's position ahead of then local elections. Police officers, judges and prosecutors were removed from their positions for being linked to Gulen. The US, where Gulen is based, disregarded Turkish requests in recent years to extradite Gulen.

The EU expressed worry about this week's events. "The situation concerning Kozi-Ipek (is) worrying. We continue to follow the situation very closely," said Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini.

"We want to reiterate the importance of respect of the rule of law and media freedom," Ray pointed out during a European Commission media briefing. "We expect this election to be in line with international and democratic standards," she added.

But the extent of EU concern with Turkey relative to democratic reform is questionable. Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel re-opened the issue of Turkey's accession to the EU during the latter's visit to the country earlier this month, a matter that remained stalled for years.

Merkel — who has always asserted that Ankara will never join the EU — said Germany is ready to open economic and monetary policy chapters in this year, while preparing to open issues of fundamental rights and justice.

She also said that Berlin could speed up the process of allowing Turkish citizens to enter Germany without a visa. This package of offers is related to the growing refugee crisis.

Germany anticipates that about one million refugees will arrive to its territories amid apparent problems persuading other European states to act in a like manner. Davutoglu said that Turkey, which already hosts more than two million Syrian refugees, will be ready to share the burden only if progress is seen on the visa issue.

Marc Pierini, ex-EU head of delegation to Turkey, told Ahram Online that the matter has turned into "some sort of bargain diplomacy," believing that this is not the best way to deal with the refugee crisis.

"This crisis affects the EU and Turkey in very similar ways: large numbers of people, no immediate prospect of returning to Syria, humanitarian needs, but also the need for income-generating jobs and education. This calls for a statesman-like joint handling of the crisis by Turkey and the EU," the now Carnegie scholar said.

"On the other hand, the prospects for re-energising EU accession talks for Turkey are slimmer than ever due to the massive deterioration of rule of law in Turkey (media freedom, independent justice, polarising narratives, etc). What happens after the election will be key in restoring an acceptable level of rule of law," added Pierini.

The elections in Turkey, in the meantime, cannot be separated from military clashes with outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In July, one month after the June race, Turkey started aerial operations against the PKK, described by Davutoglu as a "synchronised fight against terror." The air strikes expanded to reached Kurds on the Iraqi-Turkish border.

A ceasefire agreement, ahead of the new wave of violence, between Turkey and the PKK held for two years after successful talks with Abdullah Ocalan — the group's leader — which brought an end to the conflict with the Turkish army that raged since the 1980s.

Ziya Meral — a London-based Turkey researcher — told Ahram Online that the crisis has put the pro-Kurdish PDP in a tough situation after taking seats usually won by JDP candidates in the June elections. The PDP, Meral said, is "caught in the crossfire" between Turkey and the PKK, as it fails to please both PKK supporters and "more democratic peace driven voters."

However, Nigar Goksel — Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group — believes that anti-PKK operations might not give the JDP "the decisive advantage that some observers speculated it would."

Goksel argued that the resumption of violence, Kurdish anger at Turkey's refusal to aid Syrian Kurds in Kobane, and their perception that the JDP has been insincere in the peace process, "has cost the JDP Kurdish votes." 

"However, as long as JDP sees it cannot win back Kurdish votes from the PDP, it may permanently change its approach to this conflict, in line with the nationalist voting bloc. The fate of the peace process will also depend on whether, and with which party, the JDP forms a coalition after the elections," concluded Goksel. 

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