Elections in Turkey: Implications for Security in West Asia

Turkey will elect its 26th Parliament on November 1, 2015. This snap election takes place within five months of the last election on June 7, 2015. No party was able to secure a majority in that election. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which has been in power since 2001, fell short of a majority by 18 seats. Although it tried to cobble up a coalition, it did not succeed and recommended to the President to hold another election, hoping to receive a decisive verdict in its favour in the fresh poll. Erdogan could and should have invited the second largest Republican People’s Party (CHP) with 132 seats to put together a coalition. He did not because he wanted his own party to form the government.

Turkey, once referred to as the “sick man of Europe” in early 20th century, has travelled far from that epithet over the last 100 years. Today it is a vibrant, dynamic, stable, modern and growing economy. It is a democratic, Islamic regional power of 70 million which is playing an increasingly significant role in international affairs. Its importance has increased particularly due to waves of instability and violence sweeping West Asia and North Africa. The spread of Arab Spring and dramatic rise of Islamic State (IS) has further increased volatility, catapulting Turkey to a more prominent position. Increasing bloodshed in Syria and Iraq as well as continuing hostilities in Yemen have enhanced uncertainty in that Region. The entry of Russia in support of Assad and against IS and rebel forces in Syria has further muddied the waters for Turkey.

Turkey’s strategic location at the confluence of Europe and Asia, between the Caucasus and Maghreb, between West Asia and Gulf, and as an effective transit corridor for energy from Middle East and Central Asia to Europe and beyond enhances its influence far beyond the Region.

High-stakes polls

Turkey has witnessed the dramatic rise of Erdogan who won the first directly held presidential election in August 2014 after having served from 2003 to 2014 as prime minister of the country. Results of June elections represent a huge setback for Erdogan’s political ambitions to amend the constitution and become an autocratic leader with wide-ranging powers. Not only has his Islamist-rooted AKP lost majority in Parliament, but for the first time a Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), overcame the formidable threshold of 10 percent of the vote and entered the Parliament. Most Turkish analysts portrayed HDP’s leader Selahattin Demirtas as the star of June parliamentary elections.

One of Erdogan’s vital legacies is the ongoing peace process ”Kurdish Opening” with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). With this initiative the AKP government put a temporary halt to a thirty year insurgency that has cost over 40,000 lives.

Paradoxically, Erdogan is himself responsible for his rapid political decline in the June elections and for the Kurdish victory. Prior to the June elections, Erdogan faced an acute dilemma as he desperately needed the Kurdish vote for his Presidential project but feared the backlash of the Turkish nationalists and the military. His strategy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds did not find resonance amongst the people. The opposition of widely charismatic and respected Islamic scholar and mystic Fethullah Gülen significantly depleted his support base.

According to a recent poll survey, Erdogan’s AKP would win 272 seats in the forthcoming election. This would be 14 more than in June but still 4 short of a clear majority. CHP will secure 146, an increase of 14 from its earlier tally of 132. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) would come down to 57 from the earlier 80, while HDP would receive 75, marginally short of 80 that it received in June. 

The election takes place amid security concerns after an escalation of violence predominantly in south-east of the country. A ceasefire between government and PKK ended after Turkey joined the fight against IS and PKK in Syria. This was in response to a suicide bombing that killed 32 activists in July. The deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey’s modern history in which two suicide bombers killed 102 people attending a peace rally in central Ankara occurred on 10th Oct.

Stability & Syria Factor

The election is being fought predominately over issues of terrorism and national security. Nevertheless, several political analysts think that results will be no different from those in the June election.

Stability of Turkey is crucial as it plays a frontline role to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria. Europe also seeks its cooperation to stem the biggest refugee crisis the continent has seen since World War Two.

Investors, friends and allies and some segments of Turkish electorate believe a coalition is what the country needs, keeping experienced policymakers in power while putting a check on Erdogan’s more authoritarian instincts.

(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former ambassador of India and a commentator on foreign policy issues. This article has been written exclusively for India Writes Network)

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