Turkey, over the past two months or so, has been run by an interim government. The Turkish voters' decision to deprive the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002 has not only altered the center of power in Turkish politics, it has also has forced the AKP into a compromised foreign policy.
The AKP's leadership, in theory, is in coalition negotiations with the main opposition. A historic deal is not altogether impossible, but unlikely. In his unconstitutional campaign before the June 7 parliamentary elections, the AKP's unofficial boss, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, asked for "400 deputies" who would amend the constitution to introduce an executive presidential system for him. He did not specify for which party he wanted 400 seats in parliament, but everyone knew he explicitly supported the AKP, which he had founded in 2001. (According to the Turkish constitution, the head of government is the prime minister, not the president. The president has symbolic duties in addition to his powers to appoint high-ranking officials. He must remain non-partisan.)
Instead, Turks gave the AKP 258 seats -- not enough even to form a single-party government, let alone to amend the constitution. Knowing that he has nothing to lose, Erdogan wants repeat elections in autumn.
The prospect of another possibly inconclusive election in the autumn, and two months of interim governance, has been sufficient to prune the AKP's assertive foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
Boo hoo: Poor results in the June 7 elections have forced Turkey's Islamist AKP party into a compromised foreign policy. Pictured: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
After several months of reluctance, Turkey eventually agreed to join a Western coalition, led by the U.S., which fights the radical Islamic State (IS), which controls large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, both neighboring Turkey. For the first time since the jihadist group's emergence in the Levant, Turkey bombed its strongholds in July and agreed to allow the U.S. military to use the critical Incirlik air base in southern Turkey for strikes against IS. The U.S. has already used the base for strikes with its armed drones, and six U.S. F-16 fighters have been stationed at the Turkish base for further strikes that were expected to start this week.
There are other signs that a weakened AKP may be good news for every other nation in the Middle East. After several years of a cold-to-less-cold war with Israel, the Turks are now keeping back-channels open for a possible normalization of diplomatic relations, which Ankara downgraded in 2010 in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara crisis. On May 31, the Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara off the Gazan coast, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard. The ship was leading a flotilla, bound for the Gaza coast in order to break the Israeli naval blockade. A U.N. report later found Israel's blockade legal.
Apparently encouraged by the AKP government, the relatives of those killed on the Mavi Marmara launched a criminal case against four high-ranking Israeli officers, whom they accused of planning and carrying out the raid on the Mavi Marmara. On May 26, 2014, a criminal court in Istanbul issued arrest warrants for the Israeli officers. It was clearly a government-orchestrated move to squeeze Israel internationally. But surprisingly, at a court hearing on August 3, 2015, Turks watched the relatives of the victims protesting against the AKP. They accused the government of blocking, "deliberately or not" the arrest warrants from being forwarded to Interpol. They even filed an official complaint against the Turkish foreign and justice ministries for negligence of duty by not having forwarded the warrants to Interpol. Apparently, Ankara does not want to make a move that would kill any potential rapprochement with Jerusalem.
This author's prediction here after the June 7 elections was:
"... When more than 55 million Turks voted on June 7, they did not only vote to deprive President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the worse-than-Putinesque powers he had long been campaigning for; they also said a democratic "No" to his Islamist foreign policy ambitions ... A weakened Erdogan, [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu & Co. is bad news for the jihadists fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. It is bad news for Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their ideological next of kin in neighboring countries. It is, generally speaking, bad news for political Islam and its followers. It is bad news, also, for Hamas."
Yes, Hamas... there are now [unconfirmed] press reports that the weakened AKP may be forced to turn on its Hamas brothers in a diplomatic way. Israeli press has claimed that the Turkish government has ordered Salah Aruri, a top Hamas official it had been hosting, to leave the country. Israel accuses Aruri of organizing terror attacks in the West Bank. He was released from an Israeli prison and was reportedly in charge of rebuilding the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank. In recent years he was in "exile" in the friendly arms of the AKP government.
The AKP is going through difficult times. It has been politically weakened, and there are no credible indications that it would comfortably win a majority to form a government in repeat elections any time soon.
The AKP is fighting an existential war in domestic politics, and a parallel fight to rebuild the Middle East along the lines of a Sunni Turkish leadership would be both a luxury and distraction.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.