“Almost everything that [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan cares about is at stake — the executive presidency he desires, the future of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] and his legacy of peace. It is unclear how Erdoğan resolves the crosscutting political pressures to his advantage. Any move to settle one creates another problem for him.”
This is how, in his analysis for Politico Magazine, titled “The Real Reason Turkey Is Fighting [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] ISIL,” Steven Cook — a keen observer of the Middle East and Turkey — describes the impasse that President Erdoğan is in.
His sudden termination of the so-called “settlement process” with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has backfired. Continuous killing and destruction did not, as the AKP circles had hoped for, turn voters against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and raise the sympathies for the AKP.
Poll after poll now suggests that Turkey will again end up with a Parliament composed of four parties, and that the HDP is still on the rise. A most recent survey by the independent MetroPOLL (done Aug. 14) shows that the HDP is now at 14.7 percent and the AKP remains at 41.7 percent. “It seems like the snap election will not generate a different political situation from the election on June 7,” said Özer Sencar, the chairman of MetroPOLL.
İbrahim Uslu, director of ANAR, a pollster close to the AKP, agrees. “The balances dating back to June 7 remain unchanged,” he told journalists. “Changes in voter behavior are not such that they will abolish the need for coalitions. In a situation where four parties enter Parliament, the chances for a single-majority government is, per se, equal to a miracle. … That’s why Turkey is doomed to be ruled by coalitions for years.”
Estimating that 17-18 percent of Turkey’s 55 million voters identify themselves as Kurds, Uslu argues that the HDP and its charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, still have a further potential of six to seven points to gain, adding that “as long as the skirmishes continue in Turkey, it is not hard to guess where those [remaining] votes will accumulate. This war does not serve the AKP at all.”
The impasse is made even harder when the AKP, left to its own devices by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), feels obliged to invite the HDP into the interim “election” government that will serve until Nov. 1, the early election day. The opposition has already escalated its attacks, asking Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu questions such as “How do you explain cooperating with a party that you declared as accomplices of the terrorist PKK and while you wage a war against what it represents?”
If the HDP — as it kept saying it will — enters an interim Cabinet, the election campaign might turn into a nightmare for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, who are almost certain to see a further loss of (nationalist) votes from his party. From now on, it is almost impossible for the AKP to make a U-turn again towards a mutual cease-fire and an end to operations. It is in a cul-de-sac. What it can offer, as a sheer reflex, is only an escalation of the Kurdish conflict.
As Cook argues, “the result would be exactly the opposite of what Erdoğan intends, permanently compromising and marginalizing the president. It is also possible that the current skirmish with the PKK becomes a lengthier and bloodier battle. Turks will, of course, place blame on the PKK first, but as the number of body bags increases and more Turkish soldiers are laid to rest, the public may very well turn against Erdoğan and the AKP. There are scattered signs that this dynamic is already under way as Turks wonder why they are suddenly at war again after a two-and-a-half year lull.”
“The politics of the current moment represent the biggest challenge Erdoğan has faced since his leadership of the country formally began in March 2003,” Cook adds.
Since Erdoğan has antagonized large swaths of society, cemented a tight opposition block against his plans for autocratic rule and consumed almost all international democratic support, the burning question is whether or not the “grand engineer of politics” has anything further up his sleeve. If not, is there any other choice than tightening the screws — silencing the media and opposition — in a last-ditch effort?