EVEN though his party still has a plurality, the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary election is a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions, especially to his appetite for more powers to turn Turkey into a presidential democracy.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu put on a brave face and said the ruling AKP had won — securing 41pc of the votes — but the harsh fact for him is that, for the first time, Mr Erdogan will have to look for a coalition partner.
While the main opposition party, CHP, must have felt disappointed for getting only 25pc of the mandate, the real gainer is the Kurdish HDP, which crossed the 10pc barrier to secure a place in parliament.
The credit for this breakthrough goes to HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, whose campaign strategy went beyond the grievances of the Kurdish minority and appealed to Turkey’s leftist and anti-Erdogan elements. While the HDP leader’s claim that the talk of “executive presidency and dictatorship” has come to an end is true, the implications of Sunday’s polls are likely to have long-term effects on Turkish politics, especially the consequences, not necessarily negative, of the decline in the AKP’s popularity.
To begin with, Mr Erdogan must learn from his mistakes and realise that it was his authoritarian behaviour which alienated a large segment of his erstwhile supporters.
His intolerance of criticism, the persecution of Turkey’s vibrant media and his treatment of judges whose verdicts went against the state betrayed paranoia. No wonder, during his 12 years in power 63 journalists were jailed for a total period of 32 years; he was even allergic to the internet on which he was routinely criticised.
The most appalling indication of his authoritarian streak has been his use of the constitutional clause which prohibits insulting the head of state. No one before him has used this clause.
However, during the AKP rule, 105 people, including a 16-year-old boy, were indicted and eight arrested, and two cartoonists had to suffer a prison term for 11 months.
Nevertheless, the AKP will remain a factor in politics for a long time to come. The election results could reduce the polarisation centred on Mr Erdogan’s personality, and the presence of non-AKP members in the cabinet could serve as a check on his autocratic tendencies.
On the whole, it is Turkish democracy which is the gainer, for the people have shown maturity by rejecting executive excesses and voting for a liberal polity.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2015