With a significant drop in public support, the AK Party currently faces various challenges in forming a coalition with other parties
On June 7, the electorate denied the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which had been governing Turkey for 13 years, a fourth consecutive term. The election results, as such, presented the AK Party leadership with a choice between becoming part of a coalition government and sitting out for the next couple of years - both of which are new experiences for the movement. At this point, the AK Party faces a number of challenges stemming from major dilemmas ahead. Today, I would like to engage three scenarios. The first challenge relates to the AK Party's legacy as a movement that sought to create a new paradigm in Turkish politics to transform the Kemalist regime's core ideological principles including secularism in addition to its foreign policy. In recent years, this approached encountered major objections in the form of the Gezi Park protests, the 2013 corruption allegations and last year's Kobani protests. In light of the election results, the party will have to work hard to continue its quest within a coalition government and prevent other parties from reversing its deeds under the pretext of normalization. If the AK Party ends up partnering with the Republican People's Party (CHP), the abovementioned situation will face a serious dilemma, as the idea of New Turkey will inevitably represent the outcome of a more complex process. How Turkey's next government will be composed will determine which shade of grey the political landscape will assume.
The second dilemma relates to the working relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and AK Party chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu. Provided that opposition parties have publicly demanded stricter limits on President Erdoğan's mandate as a prerequisite for coalition talks, the AK Party leadership will have to find a suitable way to reconcile various differences between the coalition government and the president. If the ongoing debate about the decrease in the AK Party's popular support ends up hurting the relationship between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, there is no doubt that such tensions will reverberate across the party organization and among AK Party supporters. As such, the leadership has a responsibility to reflect on the results in a constructive manner instead of promoting tensions within. The key to the current transition is the pressing need to redefine the idea of politics within the AK Party: Without further delay, AK Party figures will have to part ways with the notion that politics consists of elite-level competition and a constant search for more power. Moving forward, AK Party elites will have to come to terms with the fact that their ties with various social groups, in particular lower-income families, has weakened and come up with relevant remedies.
The main hurdle before the AK Party's politics of transformation, meanwhile, is the possibility of party elites adopting the opposition's anti-Erdoğan attitudes. At this point, it is important for party officials to acknowledge that the president represents a source of confidence for AK Party supporters. Furthermore, demanding Erdoğan to assume the role of a passive by-stander would be to misunderstand the predicament in which he finds himself provided that he will be up for re-election in 2019. The president could, surely enough, serve a more active role than his predecessors as an elected official - even within the constitutional limits of Turkey's parliamentary system. It is, however, safe to assume that Erdoğan will adapt to changing circumstances while remaining authoritative in his relations with all political parties. A recent meeting between the president and former CHP chairmen Deniz Baykal, for instance, would attest to this fact. The third dilemma which emerged out of the ballot box relates to the Kurdish reconciliation process. Observers agree that it was the strong performance of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) which denied the AK Party a parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, the authorities have failed to ensure public safety at a time when PKK militants reaped the benefits of the reconciliation process to effectively terrorize the region. Not only in the southeast but also in eastern provinces such as Erzurum and certain districts in the west, the Kurdish political movement bullied voters into supporting the HDP. In light of the aforementioned developments, the idea that the AK Party should form a coalition government with the MHP has gained popularity over the past week. Furthermore, it is important to note the HDP has emerged as a political party that could potentially receive support from conservative Kurds. This rising tide of Kurdish nationalism undoubtedly represents the most crucial problem for Turkey and the AK Party. Needless to say, it will be difficult for the AK Party to win back conservative voters in predominantly Kurdish parts of the country. As such, there is a serious risk of further alienating the nation's Kurds. In the future, the AK Party will have to remain committed to the reconciliation process while eliminating the power vacuum in the southeast - even though the lack of a single-party government will limit the party's capabilities. Whether part of a coalition government or in the opposition, the AK Party will experience a new situation. How the party will reflect on its past holds the key to its future.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.