In Turkey, a Surprise Win for the Ruling Party

4 MINS READNov 2, 2015 | 06:14 GMT
Supporters of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) celebrate in Istanbul
(OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) celebrate in Istanbul after the first results in the country's general election on Nov. 1.

Stratfor is joined by many Turkey watchers likewise eating their words following the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) razor-thin electoral victory Nov. 1, which will enable the party to form a government on its own. With the majority of the ballots counted, the AKP has secured around 49.15 percent of the votes — a startling jump from the 40.9 percent the party received in the June elections. Turkey's main secular opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), inched up from 25 percent in June to 25.71 percent, while the National Movement Party (MHP) suffered a big drop, from 16.3 percent to 12.21 percent. The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party just barely crossed the 10 percent threshold with 10.52 percent, down from the 13.1 percent.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be a highly polarizing figure in Turkish politics, but he remains a symbol of strength for the half of the country who identify with a more pious lifestyle and still give Erdogan credit at the end of the day for raising their economic status over the past 13 years. Following the general election in June, there was a possibility that Turkish voters fearing prolonged instability under weak coalition governments would migrate back to the AKP for the sake of ending the political limbo. But there were also a number of factors that would have just as logically pulled votes away from the ruling party. Questions will be raised over voting restrictions and the AKP's gains in the Kurdish-majority southeast, where the pro-Kurdish HDP was expected to perform strongly.

The AKP has considerably hardened its stance on the Kurdish issue since the June election, the results of which showed the party had lost a significant portion of conservative Kurdish voters anyway. The biggest boost to the AKP, however, seems to have emanated from the MHP's internal fragmentation. Given the resumption of hostilities between the state and the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), along with the widespread blame assigned to the ruling party for creating security vulnerabilities with the Islamic State, nationalist voters who were reacting to the Kurdish issue, Islamic State attacks, and Erdogan's perceived trampling of legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — the former president and founder of modern Turkey — were expected to gravitate toward the MHP. But an internal purge of rivals by the party's leader, Devlet Bahceli, along with disagreements over his approach to coalition talks, have evidently fragmented the party enough to where a sizable number of voters defected to the AKP.

Looking Ahead

Now that the ruling party has enough seats to forego messy coalition talks and form a government on its own, some sense of normalcy will return to Turkey as the financial markets internalize an end to the country's political limbo. That said, economic conditions remain stagnant, and the country remains highly vulnerable to attacks by Kurdish militants, jihadists and left-wing radicals. And even as the AKP can be expected to move forward with Erdogan's efforts to enhance his executive power, those plans will likely be kept in check by the party's lack of the supermajority needed to unilaterally overhaul the political system.

The election result will have little impact on Turkey's foreign policy trajectory. With or without a coalition government, the country is moving toward deepening its involvement in northern Syria in order to keep a check on Kurdish and jihadist activity and steer its southern neighbor back to Sunni rule. Erdogan will leverage the ongoing migrant crisis to extract concessions from the Europeans, but Ankara will do little to prevent migrants from using Turkey as a thoroughfare to Northern Europe. And now that Turkey will be able to form a government in short order, Russia will apply extra efforts ahead of a bilateral meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan in December to pull Ankara closer to a bargain on a natural gas discount in exchange for a firmer commitment on the TurkStream pipeline project.

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