Against all odds, the AKP today secured a stunning comeback to secure just about 50% of the votes translating to approximately 316 seats and a majority victory. The result restores the AKP majority meaning that they will not need to form a coalition. The HDP, the party that delivered the initial blow to the AKP that resulted in these early elections, passed the 10% threshold but lost 21 seats, leaving them with 59.
The domestic front
The build-up to the elections had been dominated by the Kurdish issue as the government remains in a war with the PKK, sparked following the failure of the peace process.
The Kurds had placed great hope in the AKP in 2010 who were seen as a welcome breath of fresh air from the Ataturk influenced secular parties who sought to remove Kurdish identity through the emphasis of the ‘Turk’ identity. The progression of the peace process sanctioned by Abdullah Ocalan ensured that the AKP enjoyed support from a significant portion of the Kurdish population which allowed the AKP to secure a majority. However the stalling of the peace process as well as Erdogan’s inaction in Kobane, seen by many as a clear move on his part to ensure that the Kurds remained ‘weak’ enough to continue the negotiations, alienated and disillusioned many within the Kurdish community.
Such disillusionment became clear following the battle that raged in Kobane which was seen as tactless political maneuvering by Erdogan who sought to capitalize on the leadership struggle within the Kurdish ranks, by inviting Masoud Barzani and the Peshmerga of Iraq to save the town so as to damage Abdullah Ocalan’s standing amongst the Kurdish community. The result of this was that the HDP found resonance amongst the Kurdish community when it declared that Erdogan was self-interested and seeking only to preserve his own power. Such rhetoric, that would not have succeeded in 2011, mobilized large sections of the Kurds to rally around Demirtas who had come to embody Kurdish hopes of a successful resolution to the peace process.
As a result of the failure of the peace process, the Turkish government began bombing PKK positions in a bid to restrict their movement near the Syrian border as well as to push the Kurds to return to the peace negotiations. These tactics appear to have worked. According to sources within the Kurdish areas, the public mood has been split between those who wish to return to peace with Erdogan who has been far better to them than previous administrations, and those who wish to push for greater Kurdish autonomy (with private whispers of independence). It appears the former have dented HDP aspirations.
The biggest losers include the MHP who may now be wishing they had compromised more during coalition negotiations with the AKP following the previous elections.
As for the HDP, the reality is that out of the Kurdish voting bloc which forms around 30% of the electorate, the party secured just over 10% but lost 21 seats. This damages their credibility as a party that represents the Kurdish interests which the AKP will be keen to highlight and reflects the divide within the Kurdish community. It remains to be seen whether these results will spur the Kurdish leadership to return to the peace process.
The regional front
The AKP victory is likely to be celebrated more outside Turkey than within, as many within the Arab world see Erdogan as a breath of fresh air in a region that has seen a military coup in Egypt that has led to a brutal crackdown on all dissent and opposition, a lack of vocal opposition in key issues including Israeli transgressions on the Al-Aqsa mosque, and Russian intervention in Syria. Erdogan has been a persistent critic of Sisi and has won much adoration in his refusal to ‘reconcile’ or even entertain the option of establishing ties with the Marshall.
As a result, Erdogan’s presence has become a constant reminder of Marshall Sisi’s illegitimacy as a ruler and usurpation of democracy. With many Egyptian outlets eagerly anticipating news of a weakened Erdogan, the resurgence of the AKP will no doubt see Egyptian officials privately ruing their luck, particularly as they continue to seek to restore their role as a regional power through their involvement in the negotiations on Syria.
Furthermore, Erdogan has been a leading advocate for the removal of Assad and a major supporter of the Syrian revolution. Turkey has played host to Syrian opposition figures and the Turkish government has continued to welcome over two million refugees, providing free healthcare as well as access to Turkey’s universities. More importantly, the election results will strengthen Turkey’s position in negotiations over Syria’s future, a situation welcomed not only by pro-Erdogan supporters but also Saudi Arabia which finds its foreign policy threatened by a growing Russian presence in the region.
This is not to turn a blind eye to Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style or stifling of press freedom. However, the realities of the region mean that a weakened Erdogan at this moment in time would only have had damaging consequences on the rest of the region. In the bigger picture, Erdogan’s reinforced legitimacy has strengthened not only Turkey’s position internationally, but also given hope to the Syrian revolution and democracy activists in Egypt in their pursuit for freedom and rights.