The results of the 7 June parliamentary election change many things in the political scene of Turkey. It not only ended thirteen years of single party rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also thwarted President Erdoğan’s desire for “Turkish Type of Presidential System”. The President had actively campaigned for a governmental system change in favour of a Turkish type of hyper presidentialism for quite some time and turned this parliamentary election into a referendum on it, despite the constitutional clause obliging him to be unbiased and above party politics. Now the election results show that the AKP lost almost twenty per cent of its previous electors and its parliamentary majority seats, even though it remained the first party with forty per cent of the votes.
Many commentators believe that this is an outright rejection of presidential system and a endorsement of parliamentary practice. Even Prime Minister Davutoğlu agrees that voters did not endorse the idea of a presidential system. Research company Ipsos’ polls conducted right after the 2015 election show that 53 per cent of the electorate agree with this conclusion.
The new parliament is composed of four parties, none controlling a majority (276 seats are required to form a single party government). The AKP enjoys 258 seats. It is followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) with 132 seats, Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (the HDP) with 80 seats, and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 80 seats. Thus, Turkey is entering a era of coalition government, which is associated with political and economic instability by many people due to not very successful previous examples.
The political climate is still highly polarised and is not quite prepared for a stable coalition as the MHP has already ruled out any coalition scenario with the AKP or HDP. The HDP has also ruled out a coalition with the AKP. The CHP as a left wing opposition party has a long history of disagreement with the AKP. Even if parties agree on some kind of coalition formula there is another actor whose reactions are determining: President Erdoğan.
As the first directly elected President of Turkey, Erdoğan not only enjoys democratic legitimacy but also the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister. If the council of ministers cannot be formed or fails to receive a vote of confidence within 45 days starting from the formation of the Bureau of newly elected Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), the president can call new elections. The president may choose to obstruct the formation of a coalition behind closed doors and force new elections or may never give the responsibility to form a government to a leader other than one from his own party’s.
However President Erdoğan’s first reaction three days after the election was to call on the country’s political parties to “leave egos aside” and form a government as soon as possible. He rejected the possibility of an immediate early poll by saying that he was not opposed to any coalition possibility and that leaders should try their best to form a government before new elections were due. He also invited the eldest deputy in the TGNA, the former leader of CHP Deniz Baykal, to discuss the election results. This meeting might be an indication that President is going to be active in the coalition formation process.
Even if a coalition government is formed and survived a vote of confidence in the TGNA, President Erdoğan will still have a weight in the executive branch and would potentially make it very difficult for any government to work with him. The Turkish Constitution grants more than a symbolic, but less than a policy-making role to the president. Before his election as president Erdoğan famously declared that he would not be a traditional president hinting that he would interpret the constitutional rules outside the parliamentary tradition. He later pushed constitutional limits, chaired the cabinet regularly, interfered with the daily business of the Council of Ministers, created intra-executive conflict, and also directly violated his constitutional obligation of being impartial towards political parties.
The election results will not make a strong leader like Erdoğan act more symbolically overnight, but it does mean a type of ‘cohabitation’ for him. He will no longer be able to dictate his policy choices directly. As for future governments it means that the president may meddle in the list of possible candidates for ministers, major executive appointments, executive decrees etc. by just simply refusing to sign them. The president may also impede the cabinet’s program to a degree. Indeed, a weak coalition or a minority government might potentially increase the president’s power or influence within the system.
Furthermore Erdoğan might turn any possible political instability or crisis into an opportunity to press again for a Turkish type of presidential system, pointing out the apparent shortcomings of the current system. He already argued before the election that coalition means disaster and there cannot be a coalition government under a presidential system, even though this is false.
How the current semi-presidential system will cope this difficult cohabitation is to be seen in the future, but one thing for sure is that it is not going to be easy for any of the actors.