Vote set­back for Turkey’s rul­ing party

The loss of a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment is seen as re­buff of pres­i­dent’s au­thor­i­tar­ian style.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Laura King laura.king@la­ Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Glen John­son in Ankara, Turkey, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

ISTANBUL, Turkey— In a stunning set­back for Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, Turkey’s rul­ing party lost its par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity for the first time in 13 years, and a pro-Kur­dish party for the first time gar­nered enough votes to en­ter par­lia­ment, ac­cord­ing to a nearly com­plete tally.

The vote marked a tec­tonic po­lit­i­cal shift in Turkey, a North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion ally and an in­flu­en­tial player in the un­prece­dented tur­moil roil­ing the Mideast. If the re­sults are borne out in the fi­nal of­fi­cial tally, Er­do­gan’s Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party, or AKP, would still be the largest party, but a sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened one, and the pres­i­dent’s de­signs on a vastly em­pow­ered ex­ec­u­tive branch ap­pear to have crum­bled.

Horn-honk­ing cel­e­bra­tions broke out out­side head­quar­ters of the proKur­dish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party, or HDP, which man­aged to break a daunt­ing 10% elec­toral thresh­old to gain a par­lia­men­tary foothold, party of­fi­cials said. The party, which sought to broaden its ap­peal be­yond the Kur­dish mi­nor­ity by cham­pi­oning lib­eral causes, had taken a ma­jor risk by run­ning as a bloc rather than field­ing in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates as­so­ci­ated with the Kur­dish cause.

Amid the re­joic­ing, there was also a sense of fore­bod­ing. The bal­lot-box up­heaval is likely to usher in a pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity for Turkey, with some fear­ing that a wounded Er­do­gan might lash out anew at op­po­nents. Acall for early elec­tions, ex­pected by many an­a­lysts, could set the stage for an even more di­vi­sive and vi­o­lent cam­paign.

De­spite the pres­ence of flag-wav­ing faith­ful at AKP head­quar­ters across the coun­try, the mood was grim as the mag­ni­tude of the dam­age sank in. The party had hoped to not only main­tain its ma­jor­ity, but also ex­pand it to a two-thirds su­per­ma­jor­ity that would have made it pos­si­ble for Er­do­gan to push through con­sti­tu­tional changes that would shift greater pow­ers to his pres­i­dency.

With nearly all bal­lots counted, the AKP had about 41% of the vote, while the main op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party gar­nered 25%, the Na­tion­al­ist Ac­tion Party, or MHP, 17% and the HDP more than 12%, the state broad­caster TRT re­ported.

“The na­tion’s de­ci­sion is the best de­ci­sion — do not worry,” Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu, the AKP head, told sup­port­ers in his home­town, Konya. But he added, “We will never bow downto any power.”

Be­fore the elec­tion, there were wor­ries that a shutout of the HDP — which would have re­ceived no seats had it failed to reach the 10% thresh­old— could have trig­gered a break­down of the peace process be­tween Kur­dish mil­i­tants and the gov­ern­ment. But with a pro­jected 80 mem­bers of par­lia­ment, the coun­try’s Kur­dish mi­nor­ity, mak­ing up about 20% of the pop­u­la­tion, can look to a ma­jor new po­lit­i­cal role, al­beit one that could pro­voke an an­gry back­lash.

As the vote count pro­gressed, ju­bi­lant cel­e­bra­tions erupted in Di­yarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s Kur­dish-dom­i­nated southeast. Only two days be­fore the elec­tion, the city was the scene of a deadly blast at a po­lit­i­cal rally that left four peo­ple dead and scores in­jured. Turk­ish me­dia car­ried pho­tos of some of the in­jured ar­riv­ing at the polls, swathed in ban­dages.

Although Er­do­gan did not ap­pear on the bal­lot, the elec­tion was widely viewed as a ref­er­en­dum on his in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian style, which was wel­comed by some as a show of strength but de­nounced by oth­ers as un­der­min­ing Turkey’s tra­di­tion of secular democ­racy stretch­ing back to the repub­lic’s found­ing leader, Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk.

With nearly 54 mil­lion peo­ple el­i­gi­ble to vote, turnout was es­ti­mated at more than 85%, as long lines formed at many neigh­bor­hood polling places. The elec­tion’s high stakes raised fears of vot­ing fraud, and tens of thou­sands of Turks, mostly as­so­ci­ated with civil so­ci­ety groups, vol­un­teered to serve as elec­tion mon­i­tors.

Er­do­gan was con­sti­tu­tion­ally barred from en­gag­ing in elec­tion­eer­ing, but he turned dozens of of­fi­cial ap­pear­ances into what were in ef­fect cam­paign ral­lies, mak­ing scathing, stri­dent at­tacks on the AKP’s op­po­nents. He and Davu­to­glu had warned of dire con­se­quences if the AKP were forced to share power.

‘The na­tion’s de­ci­sion is the best de­ci­sion— do not worry. We will never bow down to any power.’

— Ah­met Davu­to­glu, prime min­is­ter and head of Turkey’s rul­ing party

Ozan Kose AFP/Getty Images

PRES­I­DENT Er­do­gan’s party would re­main the largest in par­lia­ment but sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened.

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