June 11, 2015 / 8:27 AM / 3 years ago

Striking conciliatory note, Turkey's Erdogan urges new government quickly

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan urged Turkey’s political parties to work quickly to form a new government on Thursday, saying egos should be left aside and that history would judge anyone who stood in the way.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a graduation ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

In his first public appearance since Sunday’s parliamentary election deprived the ruling AK Party of a majority, Erdogan said his own role as Turkey’s first elected president was critical and that he would play his part with the powers given to him by the constitution.

Opponents have accused Erdogan of exceeding his authority in meddling in government and campaigning for the AK Party he formally left when he assumed the presidency last year with the aim of imbuing it with sweeping new powers.

“Everyone should put aside their egos and form a government as soon as possible,” Erdogan said in a speech to students at the Ankara chamber of commerce.

“This is our biggest responsibility toward our 78 million people. No politician has the right to say ‘I’, we have to say ‘We’,” he said.

The lira, which has been hit hard by political uncertainty since the start of the year, firmed on what markets took as a more conciliatory tone after weeks of combative campaign rhetoric in the run-up to the election.

Any instability will be watched with concern by NATO allies that value Turkey as a buffer against an increasingly unstable Middle East. Islamic State militants stand at its borders and there are fears violence in the mainly Kurdish southeast could reignite if peace talks are hindered by coalition wrangling.

Sunday’s vote ended more than a decade of single-party rule in the EU candidate nation, dealing a blow to Erdogan’s ambitions for a more powerful executive role. Some critics view it as a turning point for the president and for Turkey.

Erdogan, who founded the AKP in 2001 and has dominated politics ever since, had hoped the party would win a strong enough majority to change the constitution and introduce a U.S.-style presidential system.

It was a plan viewed with suspicion by opponents who accuse him of amassing too much personal power and becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism.

“As the first elected president my responsibility is critical, I am aware of this,” Erdogan said.

“Those who leave Turkey without a government will not be able to account for themselves before history and the people ... I invite all political parties to remain calm and responsible to ensure this process is moved forward as harmlessly as possible.”

ILL-SUITED TO COALITIONS

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the AKP, its roots in Islamist politics, could be flexible.

“We’ve used the coalition eras of the 1970s and 1990s as an example to show that coalitions are not suitable for Turkey and we still stand by that stance,” Davutoglu said at a meeting of AKP officials in Ankara.

“However, with the current political picture ... we’re open to any scenarios.”

Fractious coalitions in the 1990s undermined the economy and scuppered a series of International Monetary Fund economic aid programs. Those traditional secular parties, riven by competing egos, largely collapsed before an AKP avalanche in 2002.

Davutoglu said in an interview on state TV late on Wednesday that early elections would be considered only as a last resort. He made clear Erdogan, barred from party politics, would not be directly involved in efforts to build a coalition.

Davutoglu’s comments were in themselves a sign of changing times in the AKP, where until recently public criticism of its founder, even in implicit form, would have been unthinkable. Criticism in the media has also become a risky affair, with many journalists jailed or sacked.

ERDOGAN‘S SILENCE

Coalition negotiations are likely to be complicated.

Passions must cool. Last year, at the height of a corruption scandal he said had been engineered to topple him, Erdogan dubbed his rivals terrorists and traitors locked in an “alliance of evil” with a U.S.-based Islamic cleric working to topple him.

The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has been seen as a strong potential partner, but its supporters are fiercely opposed to a peace process with Kurdish militants which Erdogan and Davutoglu have said will remain a priority.

The AKP could also try to enter coalition with the secularist Republican People’s Party, but would have to bridge a gaping ideological divide. Erdogan and many of his supporters view the party of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as the bastion of secularists whose elitist mentality he argues inflicted decades of oppression on religious conservatives.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which crossed the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament and helped deprive the AKP of its majority, has ruled out any coalition with the ruling party.

“We do not have a personal animosity towards President Erdogan. A president that breaches the constitution, and violates the law and justice will always be criticized by us,” HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas said.

But striking a more conciliatory note, he said his party would play a constructive role in parliament, particularly in advancing peace with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Erdogan launched peace efforts in 2012 to end a three-decade conflict with the PKK that has killed more than 40,000 people. Since then, Kurds have accused him of backtracking on the process, which has been on hold for months.

Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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