The Kurds in Command

EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN – In a remarkable change of fortune, Turkey’s long-marginalized Kurdish minority is poised to play a pivotal role in the country’s politics. In the parliamentary election on June 7, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), received nearly 13% of the popular vote, giving it an expected 80 seats in the 550-member National Assembly.

The result represents a sea change for Turkish politics, for it marks the first time that a primarily Kurdish party has cleared the 10% electoral threshold to enter the parliament. Indeed, the HDP’s electoral success is the main reason that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unable to retain its parliamentary majority. The AKP received just under 41% of the vote, compared to around 50% in 2011, and its seat count in the National Assembly will fall from 327 to 258. Not since 2002, when it first came to power, has the AKP failed to win an outright majority.

The AKP’s electoral setback has put an end to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambition of transforming Turkey’s parliamentary system of government into a presidential regime, which would have boosted his power enormously. Many voters and outside observers viewed the election as a referendum on Erdoğan’s role in politics. During the campaign, he did not try to hide his preference for a strong executive presidency and unabashedly supported the AKP – violating the neutral stance that Turkey’s constitution requires the president to maintain.

As a result, the AKP’s loss of its majority is likely to be interpreted as a defeat for Erdoğan personally and may even lead to a revolt against him within the party. Former President Abdullah Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc, who co-founded the AKP with Erdoğan, have been signaling for some time their disquiet not only with his authoritarian style, but also with his desire to transform the political system. If there is a revolt within the party, either or both of them are likely to lead it.