Turkey's Erdogan gambles on using crisis to consolidate power

Erdogan saw his plans to forge a presidential system derailed when his ruling AK Party lost its majority at a parliamentary elections

Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
4 min read

As efforts to form a new government flounder and Turkish jets bombard Kurdish militants, President Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to turn Turkey’s deepest uncertainty in more than a decade to his advantage.

Declaring the end of single-party rule a betrayal by “terrorists” and “so-called intellectuals”, he has cast Turkey as confronted by a new domestic enemy which, by implication, only a leader as strong as he can defeat.

Erdogan saw his plans to forge a presidential system akin to France or the U.S. derailed on June 7, when the ruling AK Party lost its majority at a parliamentary election for the first time in more than a decade.

His hopes of changing the constitution and realizing that ambition now hinge on the AKP regaining control of parliament, a scenario made possible after efforts to agree a coalition government collapsed last week, making a snap election look almost inevitable.

That, even some of those within the ruling party privately acknowledge, was the outcome Erdogan always wanted.

“He is truly successful at reaching his goals in politics,” said one senior government official.

“He is getting what he wants after a masterfully managed two months. It was clear since the beginning that in no way did he consider any other option than single AK Party rule.”

It is a high-risk strategy. Two recent polls have suggested the AKP could recover its majority and govern alone if the vote were held again, but there are no guarantees.

Dragging reluctant Turkish voters to the polls so soon after a divisive election could further undermine support for the AKP, according to Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and head of the Istanbul-based EDAM think-tank.

“It will be seen as the party that has forced early elections on a recalcitrant Turkish electorate at a time when there are severe challenges, both from the security perspective and also economically,” Ulgen said, adding that dissent within the AKP could start to bubble over.

“The drawback to this gambit for Erdogan is that if the AK Party ends up losing votes, we may start to see more open dissatisfaction about his influence,” he said.

Eager not to be seen as deal breakers, senior AKP officials have publicly rejected the idea that Erdogan, who retains considerable power over the party apparatus, is opposed to a coalition. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last Thursday described such a perception as "completely false".

But party insiders acknowledge there is already discontent with his meddling. Many blame his lobbying for an executive presidency for the fall in AKP support in June, despite a constitutional obligation for him to remain out of party politics as head of state.

“Erdogan is losing his grip on the party each day. And this is not good news for him,” said a second senior party official, although he added it was far too soon to count him out.

“He wants the presidential system one way or the other and he is not giving up.”

The combative president has missed few opportunities to portray strong, single-party rule as the only option for Turkey, particularly in times of crisis such as now, with violence flaring in the mainly Kurdish southeast and a mounting threat from ISIS militants in northern Syria.

“Turkey is facing a new enemy due to the June 7 election result, which did not allow a single party majority, and as the chaos in Syria deepens,” he said in a speech on Friday.

Top Content Trending