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Ready for cohabitation a la Turca?
When asked about the situation in Turkey, I have recently been quoting Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “You cannot draw the seed up out of the earth. All you can do is give it warmth and moisture and light; then it must grow.” Countries change by interaction, not by design. That is what is happening in Turkey. The country is changing, and if you take the long view you’ll see it’s changing for the better. Let me tell you why I am a cautious optimist regarding the upcoming elections in Turkey.
Turkey is due to hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections in less than two months. Many constitutional amendments passed in the April 2017 referendum will go into effect after this election. The world is struggling to make sense of things: Where is Turkey going? Is this the end of Turkish democracy?
I don’t think so. It is true that Turkey is heading into uncharted waters. But it is now likely that the country is moving to a place where its different political factions are going to have to live side by side under a constitutional framework, a cohabitation a la Turca.
After 15 years, coalitions have returned to Turkish politics. This is because the presidency requires a majority, not a plurality of the electorate, as well as new legislation allowing coalitions ahead of elections. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) may not have intended for these things to happen when it was designing the new system, but this is how things have turned out. The legislation effectively collapses the 10 percent electoral threshold to zero, as parties can pass it together by joining coalitions without having to give up their party names, leaders and platforms. We therefore now have a coalition of at least three parties on the government side and one or two coalitions of various parties on the opposition side.
There are currently five political parties represented in the Turkish Parliament, which has four political party groups, meaning groups with at least 20 MPs (excluding the CHP transfers, the İYİ Party has fewer). A recent study showed that after the new election representation will rise from five to seven political parties, while the number of party groups will rise from four to five. It is highly likely that the largest group in parliament will either have a very slim majority or no majority at all. It will have to depend on others to legislate.
Remember the cohabitation period in France in 1986 when François Mitterand was president and Jacques Chirac was prime minister: This was because Mitterand’s Socialists could not get a majority in parliament, which was controlled by Chirac’s Gaullists. It was a novelty in the French semi-presidential system at the time. Crossing the aisle would be a novelty in Turkey too.
It’s true, Turkey is no France when it comes to how a government is formed. In the new Turkish system, the president has the right to form a government directly without asking any vote of confidence from parliament. A popular majority vote will get him or her the job. Parliament, however, has the power to make laws and approve the budget.
So wait for things to change in Turkey if the elected president’s party or coalition fails to get a majority in parliament. The only way out then would be to reach across to its erstwhile opponents to legislate. At the very least, the president will have been elected as part of a coalition, as Erdogan would preside over an AK Party-MHP-BBP coalition in parliament for example.
You may say that if the president cannot agree with parliament he could just legislate through presidential decrees. But not so fast. The country urgently needs a strong stabilization package and a structural reform process to stop the depreciation of the Turkish Lira. This needs to be done right after the election, and will require broad support in parliament to be credible. Turkey has 95 years of legislative history and no government will want to shove through reforms like this down the country’s throat by itself.
So while the AK Party may not have set out to create a system in which it was dependent on other parties, but that is probably what it will have to take.