August 12, 2015 | Policy Brief

Turkey: Coalition or Snap Elections?

Two months have passed since Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in elections, but the party is still ruling the country through a caretaker government. As the 45-day limit to form government is set to expire August 23, interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has three options: find a coalition partner, win the AKP a vote of confidence, or let President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declare snap elections.

After four weeks and six rounds of “preliminary talks” between the AKP and the main secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a coalition seems unlikely. If the talks fail, the AKP could conceivably start negotiations with the second top opposition party, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but the MHP has already stated that it would refuse to join a coalition. Recent clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants, meanwhile, have soured the AKP’s relations with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – ruining any chance of a coalition there. Thus, with only two weeks left until the deadline, the only plausible coalition scenario is between the AKP and CHP.

If these efforts fail, Erdoğan will likely call for snap elections to be held in November. In the interim, Turkey would need to form an “election government,” which – unlike the current caretaker one – would have to represent all parties in parliament in proportion to their respective votes: 11 ministers for the AKP, six for the CHP and three each for the MHP and HDP. Neither the AKP nor MHP would be fond of this outcome, as both prefer not to serve in the same cabinet with HDP ministers.

There is, however, one other way forward. If the AKP convinces 35 opposition deputies to abstain from the parliament’s vote of confidence, it could garner the simple majority needed to continue its one-party rule as a minority government. A foreshadowing of this may have occurred last month when parties elected the speaker of parliament; when none of the candidates garnered a simple majority after three rounds of votes, MHP deputies cast blank votes in the last round and let the AKP unilaterally elect its candidate.  

Parties are now preparing for November, but they may need to wait another year. The Turkish Constitution allows parliament to postpone elections for a year if holding them is deemed impossible because of war. With Turkey now striking Kurdish militants in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria, the AKP may seek to defer elections and continue ruling until next November.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a nonresident fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst. Follow them on Twitter: @aykan_erdemir and @MerveTahiroglu