Turkey’s Post-Election Scene: The AKP-CHP Option
A coalition government of the two largest parties could end an era of polarization.
- The AKP and CHP represent Turkey's competing visions of Islamism and secularism.
- An AKP-CHP coalition, favored by Turkish businesses, would usher in a period of coexistence.
- An AKP-CHP coalition could also witness the return of Kemal Dervis to Turkish politics.
- If the AKP-CHP government fell prematurely, it would be due to differences over domestic politics.
- Turkish politicians see Russia as an historic enemy against whom the Turks are yet to win a battle.
In the aftermath of the June 7 elections, many coalition options are now being discussed in Ankara. The AKP–CHP option deserves special attention, as it would bring the country’s two largest parties together.
The coalition could potentially end a protracted era of political polarization in Turkey. Here are some possible developments that could occur under this unusual partnership.
A temporary Erdogan retreat
An essential element for the CHP’s entry into the coalition would be for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to use only his constitutionally mandated powers.
Since August 2014, Erdogan has often acted as an executive president. Erdogan could agree to stop running the country’s day-to-day affairs for now, if the CHP promised not to follow through on the corruption charges filed against him and his family members. As part of this deal, four AKP ministers also implicated in the corruption scandal could potentially be brought to justice.
Erdogan’s long-term vision would still be an amped-up presidency.
Historically, junior liberal parties tend to lose support in coalition governments when governing under conservatives as the senior partner. This was evident in the coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party in Britain.
The same was true in the case of the Free Democrats when in coalition with the Christian Democrats in Germany, and the Social Democratic Populist Party with the True Path Party in Turkey.
Erdogan’s ultimate vision in entering a coalition with the CHP would be that a premature coalition collapse could prompt a loss in CHP support.
This might allow the AKP to emerge stronger and armed with a constitution-changing majority to make him an executive-style president.
Union for Turkey’s disparate halves
The AKP and CHP represent Turkey’s two largest political parties and, as such, the country’s competing visions of Islamism and secularism.
An AKP-CHP coalition, favored by Turkish businesses and the markets, would usher in a period of co-existence, however uneasy, between these two movements.
In the past, their relationship has been characterized by a win-lose attitude.
In the 1990s, the secularists ran Turkey and often persecuted the Islamists. When Erdogan took charge as president, he, too, meted out similar treatment to the secularists.
An AKP-CHP government could mark the end of this two-decade feud.
Prominent cabinet positions for women
Women have been increasingly marginalized in AKP cabinets, relegated to the single portfolio of “family affairs.”
The most dramatic change in the new cabinet would be that, after many years under the AKP, women politicians from the CHP would hold key seats.
One such contender could be CHP deputy and party vice-chair Selin Sayek Boke, a renowned liberal economist, who could also be Turkey’s first Christian-origin minister since the end of the Ottoman Empire, if given a portfolio.
Regarding the economy, an AKP-CHP coalition could also witness the return of Kemal Dervis as a CHP cabinet member. Dervis was the architect of Turkey’s economic restructuring in 2001 and indirectly of its economic growth since then.
Strong popular and parliamentary majority
On June 7, the AKP and the CHP received 40.7% and 25.1% of the vote, respectively. This gave the AKP 258 seats in the Turkish legislature, with the CHP getting 132 seats.
An AKP-CHP coalition would thus represent 65.9% of the popular vote and hold 70.9% of the seats in the Turkish legislature, a total of 390 seats. This would constitute a strong mandate for governing.
Together, the AKP and CHP would have enough seats to make changes to the Turkish constitution. The coalition, should they desire to do so, could even revise the Turkish constitutional clause that states that constitutional amendments approved with 367 votes need not be approved through a popular referendum.
This might happen if the two parties agree on a new social consensus that allows both the parties’ visions of Turkey to flourish simultaneously.
Challenges on domestic issues
The major differences between the two parties would center on domestic politics, mainly education policy.
The CHP is keen to revive Turkey’s secular education system created by Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic.
The AKP, in turn, would insist on making its own Islamizing changes to the education system, including a recent decision to teach Sunni Islamic practices to all school children (starting from age 6) in publicly funded schools.
The control of the Ministry of Education would be hotly contested during government negotiations, as would control of the Ministry of Justice, another area where AKP and CHP visions could possibly clash.
If the AKP-CHP government were to fall prematurely, differences over domestic politics would probably be the cause.
Continuation of the Kurdish process
While they could disagree on many other domestic issues, the two parties would want to continue peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and push for further cultural rights for Kurds.
This strategy would align with a potential AKP outreach campaign aimed at bringing back conservative Kurdish voters who have migrated to the HDP.
The CHP would likewise follow this strategy, reflecting its pivot to become a social democratic party that appeals to the country’s liberals — a pivot that includes advocating broader rights for Kurds.
A freer media
In the past decade, the AKP has increasingly tightened its grip over the media, through fines issued by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), a regulatory watchdog that has become an instrument of censorship.
Similarly, the governing party has turned the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication (TIB), which is supposed to regulate the Internet, into a censorship board that often bans websites like Twitter and YouTube.
The AKP’s domination of these two bodies over the past 13 years derives from the appointment of members according to a party’s parliamentary representation.
Now, for the first time since 2002, the AKP will not appoint a majority of RTUK or TIB members. This would definitely curb the party’s ability to intimidate media organizations.
U.S.-Turkey alignment on Syria
The CHP has never encouraged AKP’s active support to various rebels in the Syrian war, including some radical groups, against the Bashar al-Assad government.
Typically in Turkish coalition governments, the junior partner gets the Foreign Ministry portfolio. Thus empowered, the CHP could downgrade Turkey’s involvement in Syria, bringing the country’s policy closer to that of the United States.
Turkey’s support to anti-Assad rebels in northwestern Syria would come under scrutiny — including closer journalistic scrutiny due to a relaxed media environment — but not end, since in the short term Ankara cannot entirely cut itself off from Syria.
This is largely because Turkey is now hosting nearly two million Syrian refugees.
Turkey’s five-year open-door policy for the rebels has exposed the country to threats from elements connected to the Assad regime, al-Qaeda-related groups, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Under the CHP, the Turkish Foreign Ministry might also open communication channels with the Assad regime.
CHP pivot to Europe and NATO
Under a CHP foreign minister, Turkey would try to pivot back to its traditional foreign policy partners, including NATO and the European Union.
Given an AKP-led preoccupation with the Middle East since 2002, a reorientation to Europe and NATO would be gradual and would require support from Turkey’s allies in Brussels and Washington.
Perhaps the most unlikely foreign policy reversal for an AKP-CHP coalition would be ties with Russia. The relationship between Turkey and Russia, which blossomed under Erdogan, is in many respects more real than the AKP’s Middle East policy. That policy has left the country without allies, proxies or friends in a volatile region.
Beyond the AKP, Turkish politicians of various persuasions, including those in the CHP, see Russia as a historic enemy against whom the Turks are yet to win a battle.
Accordingly, Turkey will remain wary of provoking Russia in the Black Sea and will shy away from identifying with Washington’s punitive Russia policy.
Further, energy-hungry Turkey imports half of its gas consumption from Russia, and “Turkish Stream” — a proposed pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea — will keep Turkey relatively close to Russia.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Washington Institute’s website.