The newly elected members of Parliament have officially taken office, but public debate still remains focused on the prospective coalition government. Having been caught by surprise, political party leaders consult with their fellow party members and supporters to find a way out of the current situation. Coming to terms with the fact that the next government will inevitably feature the Justice and Development Party (Ak Party), supporters of both the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) find themselves seriously looking into their options. Most notably, the opposition parties have come to accept that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AK Party's founder and the mastermind behind the past decade's transformation, will remain a prominent figure in the political arena.
At this point, whether or not Erdoğan will abandon de facto presidentialism and abide by the rules of Turkey's parliamentary system is no longer the question. Nor are the people interested in his supposedly straightforward engagement in day-to-day politics. One should not be distracted by the controversy surrounding the Presidential Palace and the amount of resources allegedly channeled into its budget either. The current debate revolving around the distribution of power between the president and the prime minister, likewise, is immaterial. At the heart of everything mentioned above lies the effort to limit, if not eliminate, the AK Party's role as a transformative force in Turkish politics.
Allow me to elaborate: In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions, Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu adopted an independent and audacious foreign policy to develop an entirely new perspective on regional and global affairs. The cornerstone of their approach has been the Kurdish reconciliation process.
Growing tensions at home were, of course, closely associated with the government's take on the Syrian civil war and the Kurdish Question. At this point, the future of both Turkey and the AK Party depends on whether the next government will opt for continuity over change – which is exactly why public attacks against Erdoğan target more than his person alone. Over the past decade, the president helped both his supporters and opponents by associating Turkey's transformation and troubles with his own role as a politician. Nowadays, the public debate about the perceived negative outcomes of the AK Party decade, therefore, unravels with reference to his person. At this moment, many commentators argue that Erdoğan will have to assume a low-profile role in the political system to make sure that the prospective coalition government will be able to survive. Others suggest that he will need to develop new rules of engagement with the government. As a matter of fact, Erdoğan has repeatedly pointed out in his public speeches since the election that all politicians had a responsibility to prevent the stormy 1990s from making a comeback.In my opinion, Erdoğan, like the leaders of Turkey's largest political parties, is adapting to a new kind of politics. For the record, there is no doubt that he won't buy into the argument that the AK Party needs to dump the president to move forward. However, the country needs a fresh start to address pressing issues in the region and put an end to polarization at home. The political agenda born out of the cooperation between President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu must be updated to facilitate a confrontation with growing Pan-Kurdism in Syria and Iraq, while keeping the Kurdish reconciliation process intact. In certain ways, Turkey's foreign policy might change, but the country must build on, not abandon, the new vision and additional capabilities that have been developed over the past 13 years. Foreign policy will be a key issue in coalition talks and avoiding the issue right now will simply spell the death of Turkey's next government, sooner or later, when the political leadership will have to make some tough calls.