Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Just what the Middle East needed was more turmoil. The Turkish election results may indeed retard and reduce the ability of President Tayyip Erdogan to move his anti-West, anti-Israel agenda forward very quickly but it even is not clear that his AKP Party will—now no longer in the majority—will be able to build a governing coalition in the new Parliament or will need to govern as a minority government. In a remarkable turnaround, almost 60% of the voters did not vote AKP which held 49.8% of the seats in the current Parliament. The AKP’s expectation that could achieve a super-majority in this election was soundly defeated.
Given this outcome, Erdogan may actually need to worry about his longer term political viability as President. Since he was hoping to reform his office, increase his authority, and decrease the democratic direction of the country, the surprise election results present him with a critical test to remain in power after governing already in various positions since 2002. In addition, it suggests that a majority of the people did not want any additional consolidation of power in the hands of the President.
These surprise results in Turkey open up a number of serious issues with which the region has struggled especially since the Arab Spring began in December 2010; democracy vs authoritarian and the entire array of extreme versus moderate Islamic options. Turkey, unlike Egypt for example, has almost a 100 year history of steadily evolving democratic rule. In addition, once Turkey stabilized its economy more than 15 years ago, a rivalry has developed between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey for leadership in the Muslim world. Despite the fact that Turkey is not Arab, it still has sought to become the regional power that it long felt was its due ever since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan has maneuvered himself from pro-West, pro-Israel to West and anti-Israel and from religious inclusiveness to pro-Islamist as he felt the political winds of the region were developing. He has jockeyed to get the ahead of change. It seems now that he may have misplayed his political cards and he is floundering, looking for friends—old or new–and direction.
The underlying problem is that it is in just such situations of political instability or even possible instability that ISIS and other non-democratic, destabilizing regional forces view themselves with a genuine opportunity to move in. Erdogan, therefore faces the possibility of needing to find political allies for his Party within the Turkish Parliament—no small task at all—while at the same time aware that radical Islamic groups—which oppose democracy—are maneuvering to gain power in one of the key countries in the entire region. (For the Islamic State this could eventually mean the Caliphate would spread across Iraq to Syria to Turkey.)