Davutoglu Begins Effort to Form a Coalition Government
July 10, 2015
On July 9 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally asked the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to try to form a new government. The long 33 day gap between the June 7 elections, in which the AKP failed to retain its parliamentary majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) for the first time since it came into office in November 2002, and the formal beginning of the search for a new government is unprecedented in Turkish political history. Accordingly, it has intensified speculation that Erdogan’s clear preference is for early elections, which he hopes would produce a more favorable result, instead of the formation of a coalition government.
This is understandable not only because the prospect of having to share power is unwelcome to Erdogan and the AKP after their long tenure in office. Moreover, Erdogan’s ability to effectively run Turkey from his controversial palace after he moved to the presidency in August 2014 depended –in what is still a parliamentary rather than the presidential system Erdogan has been advocating– on the willingness of the Davutoglu government and the AKP-dominated TGNA to allow him to do so.
Davutoglu, who submitted his resignation to Erdogan on June 9 but was asked to stay on in a caretaker capacity along with his ministers, will begin negotiations on a coalition on July 13 with separate meetings with the leaders of the other three parties which gained representation in the TGNA. It is true that the AKP’s negotiating position has strengthened somewhat during the interregnum since the elections by the inability of the opposition parties, which have a numerical majority in the 550-member TGNA, to form a government on their own because of the categorical rejection by the leader of the National Action Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli of any kind of cooperation with the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Their differences were clearly demonstrated by the election of Ismet Yilmaz from the AKP as the TGNA Speaker on July 1 with only the 258 votes of his party.
However, having itself also ruled out a coalition with the HDP, the AKP is likely to find it difficult to form a government with either the Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the MHP. Both parties have continued to insist since the elections on the imperative of restricting Erdogan’s ability to interfere in government as well as on pursuing the blocked corruption investigations of December 2013. While Davutoglu might not be personally averse to a coalition protocol which would inevitably restrict Erdogan’s room for political maneuver, his ability to conclude such an accord is constrained by his elevation to his position by Erdogan and the strong hold the latter continues to maintain on the party organization and AKP supporters. Davutoglu is also no doubt fully cognizant of the potential threat to his leadership at the AKP congress, which must be held before the end of September, in the event of a display of too much independence from Erdogan. Consequently, having felt the need to stress repeatedly that discussion of Erdogan’s presidency could not be part of the negotiations; his effort to form a government will be characterized by two sets of parallel negotiations, one with his possible coalition partners and another with Erdogan.
If no government is formed by August 23, Erdogan would be able to call new elections in accordance with the constitution. Davutoglu would then have to resign and Erdogan would appoint the prime minister of a provisional government that would lead the country into elections. While his choice could well be Davutoglu again, the membership of this government would be in proportion to the party representation in the TGNA with the exception of the Justice, Interior and Communications ministries which would have to be given to independents. However, because the MHP might refuse to serve in the same government as the HDP, there has been recent speculation that it might be willing to back a minority AKP government to serve until the elections. This would permit the AKP to avoid the disadvantages of entering elections without full control of the levers of government and would essentially be an extension of the current unusual situation. The AKP government under Erdogan’s firm guidance has continued to run the country since June 7 making ministerial and bureaucratic appointments, seeking prosecution of critical journalists, conducting negotiations with the United States on the Syrian crisis and even contemplating a military intervention beyond its southern border, despite the fact that it lost its majority in the elections.
As the June 7 result showed, surprises are always possible in Turkish politics. Consequently, it is conceivable that there will be an agreement on a coalition either between the AKP and the CHP or a less likely one between the AKP and the MHP. However, even if such an accord were to be reached, such a coalition is unlikely to last for long in view of the very serious differences between the AKP and its two possible partners on a whole range of domestic, economic and foreign policy issues as well as the AKP’s aversion to sharing power. A more probable scenario is a failure to form a government within the constitutionally allotted time leading to what Erdogan has called ‘repeat elections’ before the end of 2015.
Although it is far too early to speculate about the likely result of early elections, it is nevertheless safe to say that a return to the polls would constitute a major gamble for Erdogan and the AKP. While they would no doubt hope that the political uncertainty which has prevailed since June 7 would motivate former AKP voters –nationalists who drifted back to the MHP and devout Kurds who crossed to the HDP on June 7– to return to supporting the party, it is entirely possible that the loss of electoral invincibility might make it very difficult to halt the loss of momentum.
Bulent Aliriza is a senior associate and director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2015 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.