Is Erdoğan’s ‘coalition’ remark an admission that he is about to lose?

For the first time ever, Turkey’s president has talked about coalitions without trying to disparage them.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a radio interview on Wednesday that there “might be a search for a coalition” if the electoral alliance he leads fails to secure more than 300 MPs, the minimum needed to form a parliamentary majority.

“Erdoğan said it for the first time: we may seek a coalition” was the opposition daily Cumhuriyet’s headline.

The story was also covered by Milli Gazete, a religious opposition outlet.

Was it a concession from Mr Erdoğan that he might not get the result he wants this Sunday? Or was it an attempt to rally his wavering supporters, to whom he has always lamented the dangers and instability of coalition government?

Video footage of the full broadcast was streamed live on Facebook and you can see the relevant remark starting at 22’15”. Here’s a translated transcript:

Mehmet Gezegen (presenter): We now have electoral alliances. What would you say the difference is between alliances and coalitions?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: It is this. We have the People’s Alliance and we have the other one. There is nothing to say coalitions cannot form within these. But the (chances) of one forming are very, very low. For instance, ours is the People’s Alliance. Will we or will we not have such a thing within the People’s Alliance? We shall see on Sunday evening. But what is the overall question? The moment the People’s Alliance secures a figure over 300, this matter is over. If it comes below 300, then perhaps there might be a search for a coalition – that is a separate subject.

That’s it. Infuriatingly, the presenter does not press him further. He proceeds to play the president a recording of his interview with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

But there are two important points to make on that short remark.

The first is that Mr Erdoğan was clearly speaking off the cuff. You will notice I inserted the word “chances” into the transcript above. His precise Turkish words were oluşma oranı çok çok düşüktür, or “the rate of one forming is very, very low”. The context was clear but the literal translation made no sense: Turkey has never had electoral alliances, so there is no precedent that he can draw upon.

The president clearly misspoke – but that is revealing in itself, because it suggests he had not prepared lines on the subject.

NTV no more: the deleted Erdoğan coalition article

That would also appear to be supported by how few government-backed outlets covered the coalition remark.

There was a story on the website of the news channel NTV – as the above screenshot from the Google cache shows – but it has since been taken offline. Mr Erdoğan’s team clearly does not like the story.

But the second point is that the president does not need a coalition – at least, not immediately.

Turkey now operates under a presidential system that was endorsed in a disputed constitutional referendum last year.

The changes introduced through that process mean that the executive is no longer subject to a vote of confidence in parliament – or, to put it another way, a coalition is entirely voluntary, even if the president’s party does not have a majority.

If he wins the presidential election, Mr Erdoğan can pick whoever he chooses as his ministers and set to work.

Sure, an opposition-controlled parliament can obstruct his work by refusing to support his budget or blocking his laws.

It can even find the numbers to vote for a Supreme Court investigation against him, but that will take many, many months and the government can tick along fairly nicely in the interim.

Plenty of time, for instance, for Mr Erdoğan to build new alliances among individual opposition MPs.

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