Erdogan ambitions dashed by AKP election losses

HDP supporters, top, celebrate its success. Picture: Getty
HDP supporters, top, celebrate its success. Picture: Getty
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Turkey’s long-ruling party has suffered surprisingly big losses in parliament that will force it to seek a coalition partner for a new government, but other parties have vowed to resist any pact.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, won less than 41 per cent of votes in Sunday’s election for Turkey’s 550-seat parliament. It was projected to take 258 seats, still top of the political heap but 18 below the minimum required to rule alone.

The result dealt a stunning rebuke to Mr Erdogan, who had hoped to reshape Turkey’s democracy into one with a powerful presidency in which he – not parliament – would wield most control of government affairs.

His party colleague, prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, convened his cabinet yesterday to chart the most likely course to remain in power, whether by coaxing a reluctant opponent to the table or by trying to rule alone in a parliament where the AKP will be outnumbered by three empowered rivals.

The AKP’s surprise loss of parliamentary control looks likely to undermine Mr Erdogan’s ambitions to make Turkey a dominant regional power. The result also casts doubt over the course of a two-year-old Kurdish peace process championed by Mr Erdogan, seeking to end the decades-old conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

Investors took fright at the potential loss of stable, one-party government. Turkey’s currency slumped 5 per cent to a record low of 2.8 lira to the US dollar, the stock market in Istanbul tumbled 8 per cent, and the yields on Turkish government ten-year bonds surged nearly a full point to 10 per cent.

Under Turkey’s constitution, once MPs take their oath of office, all parties have 45 days to negotiate on forming a government. But analysts say the prospects have been soured by the divisive campaigning tactics of Mr Erdogan, who, as ceremonial head of state, was legally bound to remain neutral. Instead, he led fierce attacks on rival parties.

Those parties – the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the rising pro-Kurdish voice of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – all said yesterday they would not prop up an AKP-led government. Some said the outcome pointed to new elections.

But the government’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said he was confident that his party would form a coalition with one of the other three. He called the idea of a new election a “distant possibility,” while the alternative of a three-party government that excluded the AKP was “inconceivable”.

The biggest change from Turkey’s previous parliament is the ascendancy of the HDP, a socially liberal force rooted in the Kurdish nationalism of Turkey’s south-east. It attracted more than 12 per cent of votes, breaching the minimum threshold of 10 per cent designed to block extreme or regional parties from gaining a foothold in parliament.

The CHP, which finished second with a projected 132 seats, wants to combine with other opposition forces to force the AKP from power. But such an alliance would have to reconcile the anti-Kurdish conservatives of the MHP with the HDP, a daunting task.