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Turkey's Ruling Party Mulls Next Move After Electoral Setback

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (C) looks on after arriving at Esenboga Airport, in Ankara, June 8, 2015.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (C) looks on after arriving at Esenboga Airport, in Ankara, June 8, 2015.

Coalition talks will dominate Turkey in the coming weeks after voters thwarted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans to capture a supermajority, change the constitution and extend his grip on power. Sunday's parliamentary election delivered the biggest blow to Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party [AKP] since it swept to power in 2002, leaving it without an outright majority.

The Turkish president has not spoken publicly on his AK Party's setback, but, in a written statement, he declared the nation’s opinion stands above all else, and that all parties should assess their situation realistically. Erdoğan’s conciliatory tone was in stark contrast to his lambasting opposition parties and their leaders in the lead-up to the vote.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University said the president, denounced by his opponents as a would-be autocrat, is one of the main stumbling blocks in the forming of a coalition.

"It would be very difficult for any coalition government with AKP as the senior partner, with Mr. Erdoğan there to control and steer the government. And the second thing is that any junior partner will have to answer to its voters. After all, these parties were very harsh against Mr. Erdoğan's rule," said Aktar.

The most likely coalition partner is the far-right National Action Party or MHP. The two parties are believed to have held informal talks ahead of the election. The MHP ran on a platform of ending the peace process with the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.

Political scientist Yuksel Taskin of Marmara University said the AKP could further erode its popular support by taking MHP as a coaltion partner.

"AKP was hit largely by the loss of Kurdish voters. In [the] case of [a] minority government supported by MHP, or [a] two party coalition, MHP would bring the death [of] or at least freeze the [negotiated] solution process. That would further contribute to the Kurdish vote losses of AKP," said Taskin.

Analysts also say such a coalition is unlikely to be stable. Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institute in Brussels, said Turkey could be entering a new political era.

"The stability that the country has enjoyed in [the] recent past would be behind us. Whatever formula emerges, the likelihood is that we may see pressure building up for early elections," said Ulgen.

Some observers predict new parliamentary elections could come as early as September. But with Turkey's financial markets plunging on Monday, party leaders will likely be wary of prolonged political instability.

Political scientist Taskin pointed to a practical matter that may stand in the way of early polls.

"I don't believe the majority of [parliamentary] deputies would like to see a new election, because to gain retirement rights, they need to stay in parliament for two years. So this [is an] underlying concern of [the] newly-elected deputies, each of which is supposed to have spent one million Turkish lira [more than $350 thousand US dollars] on average to be elected," said Taskin.

Numan Kurtulmus, an influential AKP member tipped as a potential future leader, has ruled out early polls at least for now, saying the party is focusing on forming a government.

Observers say the AKP is aware early elections could easily deliver another setback. The party also is likely to be busy analyzing the results of Sunday's election, with some insiders possibly calling for a change in political direction and even leadership.