Turkey elections post mortem

June 13, and a weird tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach. Could it possibly be optimism?

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a deserved victory, but had its power pegged back by an improved showing from the opposition. Also, more women MPs will go to parliament than in any previous election.

The voters were oddly kind to their politicians, leaving none of the main parties with too much to cry about, but neither giving them cause for unadulterated jubilation.

The best outcome came for the Kurdish-backed Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which made huge inroads in the southeast, winning 36 seats, up from 22 last time. But this was expected, and fell within the upper range of pre-poll predictions.

Having essentially been condemned as suit-wearing terrorists by Prime Minister Erdogan before the campaign, it remains to be seen whether the government will engage meaningfully with the bolstered BDP.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, the CHP, improved with 25.9%, but it was the kind of ‘nice but no cigar’ performance that continues to typify the leadership of the bland but well-intentioned Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Under the previous leader, Deniz Baykal (a man usually attracting terms more familiar to archaeology than politics), the CHP wallowed in political irrelevance, bumping along on the bedrock of its support at around 20 percent. Pretty much anyone could have lifted its votes after the departure of Baykal.

Of course it’s good that they’ve improved under Kilicdaroglu, who is genuinely trying to transform the party into a proper opposition, but many were hoping the CHP would do somewhat better than this. Kilicdaroglu has not really done well enough to silence his doubters.

The far-right MHP, which attracted frenzied speculation when it was in danger of falling below the 10 percent threshold, is suddenly irrelevant again now that it hasn’t. It got 13 percent of votes, a reduction on last time, but still enough for them to get a seat at the table, so to speak.

As I’d thought, the AKP did rather better than most polls forecast, winning an extraordinary 50% of all votes. Given that, they must be pretty annoyed to have actually lost seats.

The reason was that most of their gains were at the expense of parties which have always been too small to make it into parliament, whilst two of their main rivals (CHP + BDP) made greater relative gains than themselves.

Now for the optimism bit. Having fallen short of 330 seats, the amount required to introduce constitutional reforms by referendum, Erdogan will have to work with the opposition, in one sense or another.

Some analysts I have spoken to believe it will be easy for him to peel away the four votes necessary from his opponents to get his way in rewriting the constitution. But I suspect that Erdogan will find it difficult and politically costly to follow through with the more controversial elements of his plans, i.e. creating a reinforced French/Russian-style presidency.

But the bottom line is that Turkey does need a new constitution, and to get it, the AKP will have to work with their opponents. As analyst Cengiz Aktar put it: “This result can give space for de-polarization.”

[My piece in today’s Times can be found here. Report for Eurasianet here.]

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