Turkey’s coalition options

If the pro-Kurdish HDP crosses the 10% electoral threshold tomorrow, we could be facing the exciting prospect of multi-party government in Turkey.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli (left) shaking hands with AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu

If the pro-Kurdish HDP crosses the 10% electoral threshold tomorrow, we could be facing the exciting prospect of multi-party government in Turkey.

Last coalition
Turkey’s last coalition was a centre-right/nationalist/centre-left blend

In this article we run through some of the possible coalition option facing Turkey after tomorrow’s election – but don’t forget that absolutely anything is possible in Turkish politics. Anyone who doubts that should think back to the 1995 election, when the secularist establishment was terrified of a victory by the Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party.

The centre-right DYP ran on a secularist platform, calling itself the “warranty” of the secularist system, and its leader Tansu Çiller vowed never to join Refah in government. But the lady was for turning: six months after Refah’s victory, the DYP joined them in a coalition.

AK Party alone

option1The likeliest option after tomorrow remains an AK Party administration governing alone, with or without a majority. The party of Ahmet Davutoğlu (and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by proxy) is shedding support and votes across the country, but not catastrophically. Barring a surprise, it is still on course to win tomorrow’s election.

If the seat distribution leaves the AK Party a few seats short of an overall majority in parliament, Mr Davutoğlu might try it alone or come to some confidence-and-supply arrangement. It would be a preferable alternative than allowing another party into the government his party has led for twelve-and-a-half years.

Remember it is the president who decides who should be responsible for forming the next government and it will take shifting sands of biblical proportions before Mr Erdoğan tries giving the job to anyone other than his self-appointed successor.

AK Party + MHP

option2If the AK Party fails to win a majority, an alliance of the two parties of the right seems to be the likeliest coalition option.

Push past the fiery anti-AK rhetoric from MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli: the two have a history of collaborating on some ground-breaking laws. It was thanks to MHP support, for example, that the AK Party was able to abolish the ban on women wearing headscarves in public buildings.

The MHP also defused the crisis surrounding the 2007 presidential election by fielding its own candidate for the job. Its man had no chance of winning, but the very fact he was running and the MHP was supporting him meant there were enough MPs in parliament to legitimise the election of Abdullah Gül.

The MHP’s 2015 campaign, it is true, has been aggressive and downbeat as it attacked what it sees as AK Party corruption and economic mismanagement. But the government has barely touched on Mr Bahçeli’s outfit in recent weeks, reserving most of its vitriol for the other opposition parties. And Mr Bahçeli is alone among the main opposition leaders in not openly decrying Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s much-touted presidential system.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli (left) shaking hands with AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli (left) shaking hands with AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu

So an AK Party-MHP tie-up has plenty of precedent and plenty of potential – but it would mean the end of the Kurdish peace process.

Here’s why: the MHP manifesto explicitly says on page 63 that it will oppose any constitutional change that allows for:

  • autonomy and regional parliaments;
  • public education in any other “mother tongue” besides Turkish;
  • creating “artificial minorities” through legal recognition of languages and cultures other than Turkish;
  • redefining the national identity on the basis of the phrase Türkiyeli (“Turkeyish”);
  • allowing for regional parliaments or public education in any other “mother tongue” besides Turkish.

If the AK Party agrees to jump into bed with the MHP, it will do so knowing that it will make no progress on its much-vaunted peace plan.

AK Party + HDP

option3Until the start of the election campaign, a tie-up between the government and the largest Kurdish party was widely considered the most likely coalition scenario.

The two had been working together for years behind the scenes on a peace deal, culminating in February’s Dolmabahçe palace declaration. Surely they’re natural allies?

It would appear not. Party leader Selahattin Demirtaş built his campaign around opposing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for an executive presidency and this week took it step further by rejecting any prospect of an AKP-HDP coalition whatsoever.

Davutoğlu Demirtaş
AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu with HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş

I started this piece with an “everything can happen” disclaimer – but it would really take a huge amount for this scenario to pull through.


option4If the AK Party falls well short of the 276 mark, it may well be that the other three parties could band together and cobble a majority.

The CHP and MHP surprised pundits and supporters alike when they announced the pious Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu as their joint candidate to oppose Mr Erdoğan’s presidential bid. That initiative was understood to be the brainchild of the clement-minded CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

His election campaign this year has been fairly respectful of the HDP, even though the two outfits are rivals on the left wing and will invariably cause a split in their vote. He’s already said he is open to a CHP/MHP/HDP tie-up.

Kılıçdaroğlu Bahçeli
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu with MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli

The black sheep in such a partnership would be the nationalist MHP, who are clearly opposed to any law that increase recognition of ethnic minorities – namely, Kurds. But even there is hope even there, if you believe prominent HDP candidate Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who said this week the peace process could even be conducted with the MHP provided all sides were genuine.

Parliamentary arithmetic could be the undoing of such an agreement, however. There would be plenty of MHP MPs ready to jump ship at the prospect of a deal involving the HDP – and I daresay a fair few in reverse too.

AK Party + CHP

option5The grand coalition option: could there be a GroKo in Turkey? The unthinkable prospect of a Davutoğlu-Kılıçdaroğlu marriage could just be possible if the arithmetic makes nothing else possible and Mr Davutoğlu is able to shake off Mr Erdoğan’s influence, this might be the only way forward.

But chew on this: anyone who strikes a deal to form a government must take that agreement to the presidency to have it approved. The president reserves the right to amend the designated prime minister’s cabinet. Whatever its colour, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hands will be all over the next cabinet.

Davutoğlu Kılıçdaroğlu
A step too far?
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