The new normal in Turkish politics

Published 13.06.2015 13:08
Updated 13.06.2015 13:09

Economists are fond of using the term "new normal" to depict the changing perception of normalcy in domestic and international markets following a major crisis, or turning point that radically alters the fundamental parameters of the system. In this sense, the outcome of the June 7 general elections created a "new normal" in Turkish politics by seizing the decade-long electoral dominance of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and producing a more fragmented configuration of forces among the AK Party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Going into the elections, domestic and international pundits were predicting some erosion in the AK Party's support base, but the odds were that it would gather enough votes to get the 276 parliamentary seats required to form the fourth successive single party government in more than a decade. Yet the party that has comfortably won all the general and local elections in Turkey since 2002 displayed a relatively muted performance following the leadership transition, and despite protecting its position as the largest political movement with nearly 41 percent of the vote, missed the goal of parliamentary majority with 259 parliamentary seats.

The reasons cited for the outcome by the supporters and opponents of the AK Party are many and complicated, but the fact is that Turkish politics has entered a new phase of uncertainty and balance of power following 13 years of undisputed single-party rule. Objectively speaking, the mental fatigue in the incumbent party after 12 long years in government, the bureaucratization of the party structure, corruption accusations following the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 incidents, zigzags in the critical reconciliation process and the HDP's success in manipulating them, the reactions of Turkish nationalist voters to the compromises with the HDP and the social impact of the economic slowdown since 2012 seem responsible for the drop. It is pretty likely that the AK Party management will initiate a comprehensive process of self-appraisal and domestic consultation to find out what went wrong in the lead up to the elections, and then develop revised strategies for future contests. But in the meantime, the domestic and international audiences must brace themselves for rather long and sophisticated coalition negotiations among the four political parties that represent the leading actors in the current political landscape. The AK Party will again determine the tone of these negotiations with its clear mathematical advantage, but the opposition parties are likely to follow a policy of blockage against all coalitions with the AK Party.

Our hunch is that this balanced landscape, which features the AK Party as the largest actor representing the moderate conservative voters, followed by the CHP representing the secular Turkish nationalists, the MHP representing conservative Turkish nationalists and the HDP representing Kurdish nationalists plus portions of the marginal and liberal left will constitute the "new normal" in Parliament and politics. Rounds of coalition negotiations will give the first indications of the new environment, in which all these parties will have to interact with each other to find common denominators and make compromises in dealing with pressing issues facing the country. It might also be the case that the efforts for a coalition government will fail and there will be a fresh round of general elections in the autumn.

Still representing the most dynamic and strong political movement in Turkey, to accept and internalize this state of affairs is especially difficult for the AK Party elite who have developed a tendency to perceive their dominance of the political contest as a given, and focus on devising long-term macro level policies and public infrastructure projects. If there is a coalition government, especially critical will be the maintenance of fiscal discipline and low public borrowing that became associated with the macroeconomic management style of single party governments. In the unlikely event of the opposition parties forming a coalition, the eyes of the international investors and institutions will be on the management of the public budget and the borrowing policies, as all opposition parties entered the elections with pretty populist redistribution pledges aimed at disadvantaged segments of Turkish society. Whether we like it or not, the new normal is full of uncertainties.

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