Analytic Guidance: What to Make of Turkey's Election Results

4 MINS READJun 8, 2015 | 19:53 GMT
Analytic Guidance: Gauging Political Polarization After Turkey's Election
(ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on after arriving at Esenboga International Airport in Ankara on June 8.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in elections on June 7 because of several key factors.

First, the left-wing pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was able to broaden its appeal to non-Kurdish minorities and capitalize on growing disapproval of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Second, the HDP succeeded in attracting more conservative Kurds to its platform despite its liberal social agenda, revealing serious holes in the AKP's strategy of focusing nearly exclusively on pious Anatolian voters. Third, support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) rose, a byproduct of the AKP's attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Kurds. Finally, a deteriorating economy eroded the AKP's image as the path to economic prosperity, and many Turks perceive Erdogan's foreign policy and attempt to consolidate power as reckless and polarizing.

The AKP has fallen 18 seats short of the 276 seats needed to form a government. Its coalition prospects do not look good.

Evident Polarization

The most logical political union from the AKP's point of view would be for the party to link up with the HDP in the hopes of putting the Kurdish peace process back on track, keeping the Kurdish insurgency contained and reviving a bargain with pro-Kurdish deputies that would exchange votes on Erdogan's presidential powers for concessions on the Kurdish issue. The problem is that the AKP has become politically poisonous to Turkey's opposition parties. If any one party links up with the AKP, they risk losing their credibility among voters. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas is sticking to his line that he will not enter into a coalition with the AKP. Given that this is the first time the Kurds have entered parliament under a single party umbrella, the HDP strategy is to form a strong opposition in parliament.

Another plausible outcome would be an AKP-MHP union. The two parties have a history of cooperating selectively on issues. However, the MHP so far is not giving any indication that it is interested in teaming up with the AKP, though the nationalist party could be swayed as negotiations take place in the coming days. An AKP alliance with MHP would effectively kill the Kurdish peace process, however, and reignite the threat of insurgency.

Erdogan is not likely to ask the party with the second-largest number of votes and the AKP's archrival, the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), to form a government. Besides, the CHP and MHP combined would still be 64 seats short of forming a government without the AKP. Moreover, it would be politically anathema for the nationalist MHP to join hands with the pro-Kurdish HDP.

The evident polarization among the parties makes it highly probable that Erdogan will be unable to form a government in the next 45 days. Consequently, the president will call for early elections, which will then, according to the constitution, have to be organized within 90 days of the announcement.

The AKP could decide to move ahead without the votes and form a minority government. In this scenario, the AKP would bargain with the MHP for the 18 votes it needs to win a vote of confidence, creating a weak and unstable government that could easily fall and lead to early elections regardless.

Security Vulnerabilities

As Stratfor forecast, the HDP crossing the 10 percent threshold and the weakening of the AKP will lead to greater political instability in Turkey. The country has a history of intense political violence, a trend that has already been on the rise over the past year with the resurgence of leftist militants. The potential for Kurdish militants to resume insurgent attacks once it becomes clear that the peace process is defunct is another layer to this threat. We will watch for security vulnerabilities in Turkey as the country enters this period of political limbo.

In the event of early elections, the AKP will likely have learned its lesson in trying to simultaneously court the Kurdish and nationalist votes. Stratfor expects a sharper swing in one direction, most likely toward the nationalist vote, if the party returns to campaign mode later this year. A more nationalist campaign will also risk fueling tension with Kurdish separatists.

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