Middle East Update: Turkish Elections, Libyan Peace Talks and other developments

The Middle East Daily: a news brief from the Middle East ChannelForeign Policy

08 June 2015


Erdogan Loses Majority in Turkish Election

Turkey’s dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in elections yesterday. Though it retains a plurality of seats after receiving 41 percent of the vote, the election marked its worst showing since 2002. Analysts say it may struggle to form a coalition government — already, three opposition parties have said they will not partner with the AKP — and the leadership may bid for new elections if a majority cannot be found quickly. For the first time in Turkish history, a Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), passed the 10 percent threshold to be seated in parliament. The party received 12 percent of the vote with a list that included Kurds (some with ties to the armed resistance to the Turkish government), women, and gays. Turkey’s traditional secular party, the Republican People’s Party, received 25 percent of the vote.

The elections complicate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions for a program of sweeping constitutional reforms that would further empower his executive office and thin the system of checks and balances. That looks less likely without an AKP majority in the parliament. The resurgent popularity of Turkish opposition parties, including votes for the HDP, are in part a backlash to AKP policies that have stoked tensions with secularists and minority groups, which have been more visible since the Gezi Park protests in 2013. The Turkish lira sank quickly as the election results were announced, with analysts citing the most political uncertainty in more than a decade, though Turkey’s central bank has moved to lessen the economic damage.


Libyan Peace Talks Begin Today in Morocco

U.N.-supported peace talks between Libya’s two feuding governments will convene today in Skhirat, Morocco, to discuss a political agreement that could end the fighting between the two groups and possibly transition to a single government. At present, the U.N.-recognized government operates from Tobruk and a rival government supported by the Libya Dawn militia operates from Tripoli. The U.N. Support Mission in Libya said it believes this round of talks will be “decisive.” The negotiations may be paused to relocate to Germany, where G7 diplomats are meeting this week.

•  Iraqi Security Forces, with support from U.S. troops, have regained control of the city center in Bayji, an oil refinery town contested by the Islamic State.

•  Nearly 6,000 migrants were rescued on the Mediterranean Sea this weekend; a coalition of northern Italian politicians are leading a new campaign to prevent more migrants from entering the country.
•  In the third incident in recent weeks, a group affiliated with the Islamic State fired a rocket from Gaza into Israel and the Israeli air force responded with an airstrike on a Hamas training facility; no injuries or deaths were reported.

•  Saudi Arabia’s highest court denied an appeal to blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.
•  Britain announced that it is sending an additional 125 trainers to Iraq, nearly doubling its commitment to the train-and-assist mission there.

Arguments and Analysis

Why isn’t there an anti-Iran alliance?” (F. Gregory Gause III, Monkey Cage)

“According to balance-of-power logic and by its ‘balance of threat’ alternative, the region should have witnessed a Turkish-Saudi-Israeli alignment aimed at Iran. Pooling resources makes sense since no single state can match Iran’s power. Israel and Saudi Arabia both seem to identify Iran as their major threat, and although Turkey may not be as focused on Iran, it still worries about Iran’s growing regional reach. A Turkish-Saudi understanding makes perfect sense by the sectarian logic that many believe is driving regional politics, as both are Sunni states. But neither the trilateral nor the bilateral balancing alignment against Iran has emerged.”


Will elections bring end of ‘Erdogan era’?” (Cengiz Candar, Al-Monitor)

“Otherwise, any fair election is likely to conclude with the ruling AKP losing its simple majority. That would pave the way for various coalition scenarios. The likeliest is the AKP-MHP coalition government. But this possible coalition may not be able to last long in the face of a looming economic crisis. Another scenario is that if no government can be formed within 45 days after the elections, then constitutionally the country has to hold new elections. This could give Erdogan the opportunity to campaign for stability, and the electorate is likely to heed his advice. But this could even be more costly for him and his ambitions. Once the erosion of his power starts, nobody can forecast where and how it would stop.”


-J. Dana Stuster



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