ANKARA: Turkey is to hold snap elections on November 1 after coalition talks failed, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tasking Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Tuesday with forming an interim caretaker cabinet.
Erdogan called the snap polls on Monday after an inconclusive June 7 legislative vote where his ruling party lost its overall majority in one of the biggest setbacks of the Turkish strongman’s career.
The elections will take place at a critical moment in the country’s modern history as the government battles Kurdish rebels in a hugely controversial air and land campaign.
In an unusual twist, the caretaker cabinet will see the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) forced to work alongside pro-Kurdish forces despised by Erdogan.
The elections will take place on November 1, the head of the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) Sadi Guven confirmed in a statement.
Erdogan asked Davutoglu to lead the caretaker government during a meeting at his presidential palace, the presidency said.
Davutoglu now has five days to form a government that will be in power for just two months and which will lead Turkey into new elections.
The premier said the situation is “unprecedented in Turkish history”: never before have parties failed to form a coalition after elections and new polls been required.
“But we shouldn’t create the impression that Turkey is going through a political crisis,” Davutoglu told reporters after meeting Erdogan.
‘Election results ignored’
The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have refused to take part in the caretaker election government.
This forces Davutoglu to form an interim cabinet with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) as well as non-partisan figures outside parliament.
The prospect of forming a government — however brief — alone with the HDP is an alarming prospect for Davutoglu and Erdogan who have accused the party of being a front for outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels.
Davutoglu expressed dismay that the CHP and MHP had vowed to stay out of the caretaker government.
“Escaping responsibilities and blocking the options would lead to unintended consequences,” he said.
But he denied there would be “Gunes Motel” closed-door talks with the opposition, a reference to notorious secret talks held by then CHP leader Bulent Ecevit in 1977 at an Istanbul motel that brought down the government.
The CHP has accused Erdogan of seeking to stage a “civilian coup” with the early election plan in a nod at Turkish history which has seen the country living through three full military coups: in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
“The election results (of June 7) have been totally ignored,” said CHP spokesman Haluk Koc.
“Ignoring the procedures are a violation of the democracy,” he said, describing Davutoglu as a “mere spectator” while Erdogan pulled the strings.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas reaffirmed that his party was ready to take part in the interim administration.
But Demirtas added he would “not be surprised” if the AKP tried to form a government without the party, according to the Dogan news agency.
Murat Yetkin, columnist for the Radikal online daily, described the prospect of a coalition with the AKP as a “nightmare” for Erdogan who would risk losing the votes of Turkish nationalists.
“The only way for the AKP to avoid looking as if it’s forming an election government with the HDP would be not offering any HDP lawmakers any government position thereby wholly leaving the constitution to one side,” he said.
He said the HDP would likely be given the ministries of youth and sports, water and forests, and EU affairs.
As well as restoring the AKP’s simple majority, Erdogan is hoping the election will enable him to change the constitution in order to establish a powerful presidency with full executive authority like in France or the United States.
To do this, the AKP needs to win a three-fifths majority of at least 330 seats in parliament in order to change the constitution by calling a referendum.
A majority of two-thirds — 367 seats — would allow the changes to be passed without a referendum.
Since late July, Turkey has been waging a relentless “anti-terror” offensive against PKK rebels in the southeast and in northern Iraq, which critics say is largely aimed at tipping the balance in the next polls.
According to the latest toll published by the official Anatolia news agency, 918 PKK fighters have been killed in ground operations and air strikes.
Meanwhile, at least 60 members of the Turkish security forces have lost their lives in a cycle of violence that shows no sign of ending.