At the parliamentary election on 7 June Turkish voters ended the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year single-party rule. However, the election did not return a clear majority. On the 10 July President Erdoğan gave the leader of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as Prime Minister with the responsibility for forming a coalition government. If no government was formed within 45 days, then President Erdoğan could call a second election.
Prime Minister Davutoğlu met with the other three party leaders several times but without success, even though certain circles within the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the second biggest party in the new parliament, and the AKP were said to be eager to form a coalition. At the end of the talks a senior CHP official claimed that the AKP did not want to form a government for four years but only a short-term coalition, while the CHP had pressed for a four-year reform government.
President Erdogan was careful to be seen as an active and influential actor. During the talks between the CHP and the AKP, the President warned that it would be suicidal to enter a coalition if the views of “one side” do not match with the principles of the other, implying that a secularist left wing CHP would not be a good coalition partner for the conservative Islamist AKP.
Less than a week before the end of the constitutional time limit of 45 days, President Erdoğan announced that there would be a snap election on the first of November and that there would be an interim government in the meantime. President Erdoğan refused to hand the duty to form a government to the Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) or any other party with seats in the parliament, saying that there was no possibility left for a coalition government. President Erdoğan also replied to opposition’s criticism of his decision by saying that he would not hand the power to form a government to the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, since he had insulted the president and refused to recognise his newly built 615 million dollar palace (symbol of his power and desire to change governmental system into a presidential one) as the presidential palace.
Some critics believe that Erdoğan blocked any possibility of a coalition in order to push for a presidential system. Despite the fact that a majority of Turkish electors failed to endorse the idea in the last election, Erdoğan said in a public speech in his hometown of Rize on August 14 that the Turkish system has been changed into a de facto presidential one since he was elected by a public vote. The President claims that he has de facto powers and there is a need for a new constitution that enhances presidential powers and brings them into line with his de facto position. Even though he has been elected by public vote, the 1982 Turkish Constitution, which was originally parliamentary, does not bestow strong executive powers on the president, only a few powers checking and balancing the cabinet.
In the meantime President Erdoğan announced the end of a two year cease fire between security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, and negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government. The country has entered into a phase where the civilian death toll is rising every day. Over the summer 220 politicians from pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested. Opponents have accused Erdoğan of attacking the PKK in a bid to win nationalist support and discredit the pro-Kurdish party, whose gains in the June elections deprived the ruling party of its majority.
In an environment where political violence and economic uncertainty are becoming a realit, President Erdoğan seems to want to hold on to his desire for a presidential system hoping that snap elections will produce enough seats for the AKP not only to form a single-party government, but also with a two-thirds majority that will allow him to change the constitution. He and his close allies blamed electors not switching to a presidential system and for the increasingly chaotic situation in the country after the June election.
With two months to go before the November election, the polls do not suggest a dramatic rise in support for the AKP since June election, meaning that there is no single-party government on the horizon. It seems that current constitutional structure does not suit the president, especially in the context of a possible coalition government. So much so indeed that he is willing to gamble not only his political career but also the country’s peace and well-being.