No time to lose

Published 12.06.2015 21:55
Updated 20.08.2015 10:13
No time to lose

The 2015 general election has been a memorable event. According to unofficial results, 47.5 million voters went to the polls on June 7 to end the Justice and Development Party's 13-year run as a single-party government and push the Kurdish political movement above the 10 percent national threshold. The ongoing public debate indicates that the people are urging major political parties to work together more closely and, despite the challenges that coalition governments inherently entail, run the country in a more cooperative manner.

History teaches us that a coalition government tends to be less successful than single-party governments. Turkey's multi-party democracy, which was formally established in 1946, experimented with both options over the past decades. During this period, the Democratic Party (DP) (1950-1960), the Justice Party (AP) (1965-1971), the Motherland Party (ANAP) (1983-1991) and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) (2002-2015) were the only parties to earn the support of a sufficiently large chunk of the electorate to form single-party governments. Coalition governments, in turn, have traditionally been frowned upon. During the 1970s and 1990s, in particular, parliamentary politics failed to address pressing problems while extra-parliamentary forces such as the Armed Forces ended up overstepping their authority to overthrow and facilitate governments at will.

Although Turkey made extraordinary progress under the AK Party and implemented a number of reforms to strengthen state institutions, the lack of unity within the executive branch will inevitably create problems and challenges that the incumbents did not experience. In light of Sunday's election results, there is a good chance that the next government will find it difficult to create a vision for the country's future. Perhaps more significantly, a coalition government might experience certain problems with violent conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, which place regional stability at risk. Furthermore, potential disagreements between coalition partners over foreign policy, among other issues, might slow down the decision-making process and render Turkey less capable of responding to changing circumstances rapidly and effectively. To make matters worse, the formation of a coalition government in Turkey, a key NATO ally in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, might render ongoing efforts to curb the influx of foreign fighters into the conflict zone less effective.

Moving forward, all political parties will undoubtedly draw necessary conclusions from the election results. The AK Party, which won a fourth consecutive landslide victory in Sunday's parliamentary contest, will have to devise a strategy to win back certain constituencies who were unimpressed by the incumbents' campaign. Meanwhile, the party should take pride in its ability to hold onto conservative and center-right voters. Considering that observers consider a number of political parties across the European continent quite successful for receiving less than 35 percent of the vote, there is no reason to believe that the incumbents suffered a defeat. They must, however, reflect on their performance to patch up their wounds and work harder to clinch a parliamentary majority next time around.

Another important player over the next years will be the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), whose strong performance, to some extent, reflected the electorate's lack of confidence in traditional opposition movements including the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The HDP's main accomplishment, as many observers pointed out, has been to tap into the sense of despair among President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's staunchest opponents among ethnic Turks and a certain chunk of the Kurdish electorate with no clear road map for the future. This strong display, however, inevitably entails certain responsibilities and challenges. Having received 13 percent of the vote, the HDP leadership must take it upon itself to call on the PKK to disarm in order to facilitate the Kurdish political movement's long-term goal of attracting a nationwide audience.

Over the past couple of days, both President Erdoğan and spokespersons for major political parties have come out in favor of a coalition government. Having reached a historic juncture, Turkey requires strong leadership and a clear direction to build a brighter future for its people and the region. A lack of government, however, is ultimately the worst case scenario for the country. As such, major political parties must make a genuine effort to form a coalition government without delay. It would appear that a coalition government between the AK Party and the MHP will minimize aforementioned risks associated with differences of opinion within the executive branch. If political parties fail to form a coalition government in due time, however, the electorate will break the deadlock in early elections.

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