After 13 years of single-party governments, Turkish politics is in search of a coalition again. The long domination of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) seems to have blurred the memory of the preceding era of coalition governments in Turkey. Contributing to the confusion has been the often inconsistent declarations and re-declarations of coalition prospects by the parties and their members since the general elections on 7 June. While the AK Party continues the coalition talks with the Republican People's Party (CHP) behind closed doors, what do the party positions on various issues tell us about the coalition prospects?
The latest wave of Chapel Hill expert surveys announced earlier this week provides timely data to answer this question. It is composed of estimates by experts on the positioning of political parties from 31 countries with respect to several policy issues ranging from European integration and other specific policy areas to more broad political ideology. For example, on the role of religious principles in politics, experts are asked to place the parties on a scale from 0 (strongly opposes religious principles in politics) to 10 (strongly supports religious principles in politics). In this particular policy area, the AK Party scores 9.4, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) scores 6.1, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) scores 1.4 and finally the CHP scores 1.3. Therefore, the survey rather unsurprisingly places the MHP as the closest party to the AK Party with respect to the position of the party leadership on the role of religion in politics.
A systematic analysis of the party distances in all policy areas shows that the MHP is indeed the closest party to the AK Party in the highest number of policy areas compared to the CHP or HDP. Specifically, the distance between the positions of the AK Party and the MHP is smallest in 18 out of 31 policy areas, or in other words, about 58 percent of the time. This is in line with the preference of the AK Party base to form a coalition with the MHP, as announced by AK Party Deputy Chairman Beşir Atalay based on polls conducted by the party. The base may not necessarily have any data, or base their choice on data even if they had the data, but it seems that the AK Party polls refer to a rational choice.
The graph above hints that the CHP is the second-best choice for the AK Party to form a coalition with. In terms of the distance to the AK Party in policy positions, the CHP is most likely to be positioned somewhere in between the other two parties. It is the closest party to the AK Party in only 10 policy areas, or roughly 32 percent of the time. The policy areas in which the AK Party is most likely to agree with the CHP than the other two parties include Turkey's relationship with the EU, political decentralization of the state, their position toward ethnic minorities and the salience of economic or democratic issues.
That being said, one should also note that the CHP is furthest away from the AK Party in the least number of policy areas. Beside the above-mentioned example of religious principles in politics, compared to the positions of the other two parties, the CHP position is at the greatest distance to the AK Party in international security as well as salience of anti-establishment rhetoric and political corruption. Finally, unlike the CHP, the HDP is the furthest away from the AK Party in the highest number of policy areas. Out of 31 policy areas, the positional distances between the AK Party and HDP are the largest in 20 areas, in other words, about 65 percent of the time. The two parties are closest in very few areas such as immigration policy. The position of political parties on policy issues is an important indicator not only for coalition prospects between or among parties, but also for the stability of a coalition government. Parties that are closer to each other on policy dimensions are more likely to find and sustain a compromise through coalition agreements.
However, as the coalition talks of the recent weeks in Turkey have shown, one should not read too much into party positions either. Party leaderships weigh different policy dimensions differently as not all policy areas are equally important for all parties. Besides, there are other strategic reasons why a party leadership may not be willing to form a coalition with another party even if they are very close in many dimensions of policy, just as is evident in the reluctance of the MHP to form a coalition government with the AK Party. The development of coalition prospects since the June 7 general elections - that the AK Party is now more likely to form a coalition with the CHP, which is positioned further away than the MHP in many areas - is a good real-life example of strategic party behavior in many aspects.