After Turkish elections, what comes next?
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Snap elections that were held on Nov. 1 in Turkey have resulted in a clear parliamentary majority for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and a sort of personal redemption for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan, who has been in power in Turkey for a decade now — most recently as president of the republic, but previously as prime minister — has treated this set of parliamentary elections, with the original round taking place back in June, as a referendum on his plans for what he calls a "New Turkey." Not getting the parliamentary majority he desired in the June elections was taken as a personal affront to him and a threat to his grasp on power.


The hijacking of an electoral democracy by a president with a singular vision for the future of the country is not new in the world of liberal democracies, but it is certainly a new phenomenon in Turkey. As I explained in an earlier article, Erdoğan took a gamble by rejecting the option of forming a coalition government in favor of calling snap elections in November. In order to tilt the odds in his favor, in June, he declared war on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), unilaterally ending a peace process between the Kurdish separatist group and the Turkish government and plunging the country into chaos.

Manufacturing a state of emergency in the country — at a very high cost to human life, national cohesion and the economy — for the purpose of creating a sense of fear in the Turkish nationalist majority ultimately worked. Five months of fearmongering and attacks and counterattacks were meant to appeal to the instinct of rallying around the sitting government. Add to this the use of detentions, unfair electoral practices and escalating attacks against the free press, and a picture of a man convinced of the importance of maintaining his hold on power by any means necessary becomes clear.

The worry now is the possibility of a quick descent into autocracy. For what is at stake here is no less than the modification of the Turkish political system from one of a strong parliamentary democracy to one where the real power would become concentrated in the hands of Erdoğan. If sweeping amendments to the constitution that were proposed in 2014 were to pass, they would strip some of the executive power from the parliament while increasing the power of the presidency.

In order for these amendments to the constitution to pass in the Turkish parliament, two-thirds of the members of parliament (MPs) have to be in agreement — but in in order to call for a plebiscite on the constitutional changes, only three-fifths of the parliament is needed. Thus, with the AKP set to hold the majority of the seats in the parliament with 317 out of 550, they are only 13 votes shy of what would be needed to call for a plebiscite. With the results in, Erdoğan is much closer to making his vision of a New Turkey under his paternalistic rule a reality.

AKP's win is not absolute, however. As mentioned above, AKP fell short of the three-fifths needed to call a plebiscite. In addition, a few other factors remain outside the control of the president. First, the pro-Kurdish leftist party and most vocal opponent to Erdoğan, the People's Democratic Party (HDP), passed the 10 percent of the vote threshold needed to enter the parliament with 40 MPs, despite extreme pressures by the government and its extended apparatus. How will the AKP presence in the parliament impact the war against the Kurds and what does it mean for Erdoğan's plans of seizing absolute power? Additionally, will the Republican People's Party (CHP), which holds 134 seats and forms the official opposition, be swayed toward AKP or further away?

Second, the beating taken by the Turkish economy and the plummeting Turkish lira over the past few months would have to witness some demonstrable recovery in order to appease a middle class betting on AKP's promise of stability. However, with Turkey increasingly perceived as too instable for foreign investments and with the ever-looming threat of civil war, can the AKP perform a miracle and quickly pull the Turkish economy from the brink?

Third, the EU and the U.S. seem to support Erdoğan in return for immediate strategic gains in the war in Syria and in order to stem the flow of Syrian refugees. Can Erdoğan maintain the support of the U.S. and the EU if the volatile geopolitical situation in Syria changes?

Last, but not least, the powerful Turkish military has been silent thought this ordeal. What would happen if the military leaders in Turkey use this occasion of insecurity and political instability to reassert their dominance — as they did in the past — and how would that impact Erdoğan's plans for absolute power to make his New Turkey a reality?

Minawi is assistant professor of History at Cornell University, where he is also director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative (OTSI). His forthcoming book, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz, will be published by Stanford University Press in 2016.