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Turkey after elections: autocracy or democracy?

The AKP election victory has brought up the question of whether Turkey will slide further down an authoritarian path or correct its course. The country faces deep divisions and a hazardous polarization.

The victory of Turkey's Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) - on what critics argue was a campaign built on fear and polarization and party supporters contest was affirmation of its support among voters - now leaves open the question of how the AKP will rule in the deeply divided country.

Sunday's vote gave the AKP just under half the vote, or 317 seats in the 550 seat parliament, effectively reversing its losses in the June election which saw the party lose its majority for the first time in 13 years. Then, after coalition talks failed, the AKP called for fresh elections.

Meanwhile, the center-left CHP maintained its share of roughly 25 percent, but the AKP was able to take nearly half the seats from the ultra-nationalist MHP. The pro-Kurdish HDP lost 21 seats, 18 of which went to the AKP.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party was able to secure a majority on a message that coalition governments would lead to economic and political instability.

Polarization

The five month interim between the elections saw an

uptick in violence

as a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants (PKK) broke down. At the same time, pro-AKP media launched attacks against the opposition and other critical voices that went hand-in-hand with a

government crackdown.

The security environment was further tested by two

Islamic State bombings

in July and October, which combined killed at least 130 people, mostly Kurds and leftists.

The deteriorating security environment and deep polarization, coupled with impending economic troubles, raises serious questions about how the AKP will rule now that Erdogan and his party have gotten what it wanted at the ballot box.

For Akin Unver, an associate professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, the AKP will continue to rule in a polarizing manner.

"If they won through polarization, intra-party momentum will eventually steer them towards the same approach," Unver told DW. "It is unclear which groups, interests and communities they seek normalization with."

AKP faced with fewer threats

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, told DW that now, with four years until the next general election, the AKP is likely to address social and economic issues, rather than feel threatened and will further try to consolidate power.

The party, he pointed out, has survived the

Gezi Park protests

and a major corruption scandal, both of which threatened to take down the government. This should give the AKP some "self-confidence" that its rule is no longer threatened.

However, a lot will depend on the balance of power between Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Ahmet Davutoglu

There remain questions over how Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Erdogan will divide responsibility.

"Erdogan might have another agenda and he might try to push for consolidating power," he said, refering to Erdogan's ambition to turn Turkey into a presidial system.

He added there was a lot of "soul searching" within the AKP after the June election defeat. That election was widely viewed as a referendum on the sought-after presidential system.

Ziya Meral, a London-based researcher on Turkey, told DW that there are signs within the AKP of a realization that "things have gone wrong over the past three years, but it would be naïve to see a new AKP emerging."

Meral said the Gezi Park protests and corruption scandal that implicated the highest echelons of the party, including Erdogan and his family, put the AKP "on the defensive and in the corner, pretty much fighting for survival."

Now that those twin challenges have been overcome and the election won, he said the party could develop more constructive policies. "Beyond the harsh rhetoric there is always pragmatism," he said.

Still,

the AKP will continue to go after the Gulen movement,

which unveiled corruption within the government and is accused of running a "parallel state" with influence spread through the media, judiciary, police and business world, Wolfango Piccoli, the Managing Director at Teneo Intelligence, told DW.

Fethullah Gülen

The government has accused Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, of heading a terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government.

Constitution

Senior AKP officials in the days after the vote said one of their first objectives is to

change the 1980 coup era constitution and switch from the parliamentary to a presidial system.

The AKP would need 331 votes, or 14 more that its current number of seats, to pass an amended constitution and send it to a referendum, or 367 votes to pass a new constitution outright in parliament without a referendum.

All opposition parties are against a presidial system, but there is some agreement on changing some articles of the constitution. Previous efforts to write a new constitution collapsed amid differences between the parties.

Piccoli argued that he is skeptical the government can reach out to the Kurds in such a polarized and violent environment. "This could only happen if it is part of a much bigger bargain about the constitution, but that can't happen in an environment of violence," he said, noting the overall atmosphere is not conducive to constitutional change.

He suggested that the AKP may first try to "assimilate the MHP after its poor performance" in the election before going to the HDP.

The MHP and AKP share a common base of support - religious and nationalist Turks. Piccoli said the AKP could enlist Tugrul Turkes, the son of the founder of the MHP, Alparslan Turkes, who joined the AKP this summer, to pull enough votes from the MHP to move forward on changing the constitution.

Meral and Unluhisarcikli both said they believe the presidential system is now realistically off the table.

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