In the wake of Sunday’s historic elections that saw Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) shockingly lose its parliamentary majority, many a political analyst has rushed to bury the longtime Turkish leader — or, at least, throw dirt on the president’s dreams of iron-clad, uncontested rule.
Voters delivered a stinging rebuke not only to a party that has wielded power for 13 years but also to Erdogan’s personal ambitions. (Note that the AKP supports amendments to the current presidential system, which would allow Erdogan to vastly extend his powers.) Instead, some observers believe, he just lost his best chance to be the “next Putin.”
Erdogan, at first glance, seems prepared to accept the inevitable. “I believe the results, which do not give the opportunity to any party to form a single-party government, will be assessed healthily and realistically by every party,” he was quoted as saying in his only public response since the results were announced.
As the president licks his wounds in private, Selahattin Demirtas, the young, photogenic leader of the feverishly pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is being celebrated as the man of the hour after he and his comrades played spoiler. But the man some are calling “the Turkish Obama” may find that neutralizing the resilient Erdogan will prove no small feat. Senior AKP officials swiftly expressed a willingness to form a coalition government with political rivals, hurriedly convening to plot their next move.
Demirtas has long rejected the idea of allying with Erdogan, but it remains an inconvenient truth that the AKP still holds the vast majority of seats in parliament. Fact is, it fell only 16 shy of retaining an overt majority.
The dressing down of the AKP, while cheered by Erdogan’s detractors at home and in the West, is not without realpolitik caveats. Uncertainty is bad for business — the lira dove after the election — as well as for the populace at large. And with Turkey embroiled in conflict with the U.S. over the unrest in neighboring Syria and refugees flooding into Turkey as Kurdish fighters do their best to stem the tide that is the Islamic State, a government in limbo is far from optimal.
Following the election, Turkey’s nine major political parties have 45 days from in which to form a government. Failing that, an early ballot will be held, a prospect unappetizing to just about everyone involved. With several coalition configurations possible and a conciliatory Erdogan seemingly understanding the need to present a united front, it makes sense — even in the roiling political world that defines modern-day Turkey — to reach an accommodation with other parties as quickly as possible.
Still, it would be shortsighted to view Erdogan as vanquished by the electoral process. This is a man who emerged from a prison sentence and political banishment to build the AKP from scratch. It is unlikely that he has completely abandoned the idea of transforming the Turkish presidency from a mostly ceremonial post to one that wields real power. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that any longtime Erdogan watcher would be willing to bet against his eventual rise from these political ashes.