Back in June, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey got slapped with a loss. He was looking to amend the Turkish Constitution to empower the Presidency, the office he now holds. But his crypto-Islamist party lost the majority it had held since November 2002. That crushed his dreams of becoming dictator, er, I mean, a strong President.
However the opposition could not come together to form a majority, as it was a broad mix of socialist, nationalist, and far-left/pro-Kurdish parties, so a new election was held. Now everything is back on the table for President Erdogan.
The main left-wing party, the urban-heavy Republican People’s Party, stayed virtually even with the June election. The Nationalist Movement Party lost half their seats, and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party lost a quarter. Benefiting was the (crypto-Islamist) Justice and Development Party, which shot back up to a majority.
The parties that lost out probably not coincidentally were the ones that suspended their campaigns to mourn the Islamic State-linked terrorist bombings in Ankara last month, that killed 102 people, and injured over 400 more. Combine this with President Erodgan’s constant flirting with the edges of the law, which requires the President to be politically neutral (even though everyone knows he supports the Justice and Development Party which he formerly headed in the legislature), and you got electoral wipeouts.
Erodgan’s allies won 317 out of 550, short of the 2/3 requirement to amend the Constitution, and short of the 60% required to get a referendum. They came just three seats short of the absolute 2/3 majority in 2002. So while this is a win for the party, it’s not the end of the process for Erdogan. He will surely use this win to resume campaigning for Constitutional changes, hoping to win another election at a future date.
As far as American interests are concerned, this is not a great result. While Erdogan has portrayed himself as pro-western and pro-American (even passing a referendum in 2010 to work toward EU membership), the crypto-Islamist nature of the party (previous versions of the party have been banned by the Kemalist military) has led to conflict with Israel, including attempts to run the Israeli blockade and supply Hamas in Gaza.
Additionally, the party’s overriding desire to oppose the Kurds makes it difficult to work with them for a clean strategy in Iraq and Syria, much as when Turkey was an obstacle in the Iraq war last time.
The political situation reminds me of Russia. There, the top two parties are the dictator’s United Russia, and the actual Communist Party. No matter who wins, anything we would recognize as a good result, loses. The same is true in Turkey, unfortunately. We just have to represent our interests abroad, back Israel, and hope NATO doesn’t completely fall apart.