August 21, 2015 / 1:30 PM / in 2 years

Erdogan, AK Party set to keep grip with interim Turkish cabinet

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party will keep their grip on power when an interim government is formed next week to lead Turkey to a snap election, with the cabinet set to be dominated by loyalists.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a joint media briefing with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Erdogan will ask Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form the temporary power-sharing government early next week, senior officials said, after two months of efforts to agree a coalition with opposition parties ahead of an Aug. 23 deadline failed.

The AK Party, founded by Erdogan, lost its majority in a June 7 election for the first time since coming to power in 2002, complicating Erdogan’s ambition of forging a more powerful presidency and plunging Turkey into political uncertainty not seen since the fragile coalition governments of the 1990s.

The instability, coming as the NATO member battles Islamic State insurgents on its borders and Kurdish militants at home, has sent the lira to a series of record lows and helped push consumer confidence to its weakest in six years.

“Whomever I give the mandate to, that person will form an election government with a cabinet from inside and if necessary from outside parliament,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after attending Friday prayers.

“On November 1st, God willing, Turkey will experience a repeat election,” he said.

Erdogan’s hopes of changing the constitution and ushering in a presidential system akin to the United States or France hinge on a strong AKP majority in parliament. A fresh election organized under an AKP administration was the outcome he was always believed to want.

Under the constitution, all parties should be represented in any interim “election government” according to the seats they hold in parliament. But Turkey is in untested waters - never before has such an arrangement been necessary.

Such a government would mean power being shared between four political parties with deep ideological divides. The secularist CHP and the nationalist MHP have said they will not take part, while the pro-Kurdish HDP has said it will only do so if it has a free hand to choose its nominees, which is far from clear.

“I think the HDP wants its co-leaders to be in the cabinet. But there is nothing legally-binding about this request,” said Mehmet Sahin from the Institute of Strategic Thinking, an Ankara-based think-tank.

Should opposition parties decline to nominate members for cabinet positions, their places can be taken by candidates from outside parliament. No vote of confidence is required for the cabinet to then function, leaving the opposition impotent.

“SWIFT AND STURDY” PATH TO POLLS

Erdogan’s chief adviser on the constitution, Burhan Kuzu, said a new government must be formed within five days of the mandate being given and that the president would have some say over the nominees.

“If the HDP decides not to participate, then independent names will be assigned,” he told Reuters. “The prime minister will determine the government and present it to the president for his signature. This will be done latest by August 31.”

According to the seat distribution in parliament, the main opposition CHP should get six or seven posts in the 25-member cabinet, while the MHP and HDP would each be entitled to three.

The “independent” candidates who take up their positions should the opposition parties decline to take part could include bureaucrats and former AKP members loyal to the ruling party.

“Davutoglu is expected to appoint AKP sympathizers from outside the parliament to these posts, which is likely to increase tensions within the legislature. The AKP, as a result, will dominate the provisional government,” said Naz Masraff, an analyst at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

A senior AKP official said that both Erdogan and Davutoglu agreed on the need to take Turkey “swiftly and sturdily” to a new election and that the interim government would serve that purpose alone, rather than seeking to execute new policies.

“We’re talking about a government that will work for 15-20 days and a cabinet that will at most meet once or twice,” said HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen, saying his party’s executive committee would meet next week to discuss the election cabinet.

Foreign investors, and increasingly Turkey’s own population, fear that means the country is simply losing time in pressing ahead with badly-needed reforms to its $870 billion economy, and that the next election could yield much the same result and another round of fractious coalition negotiations.

With the lira flirting this week with a record low of 3 to the dollar, that could mean more pain for the man in the street.

“Now all we can do is wait for an election in which the AK Party regains a single party government, then the forex rate will cool down,” said 26-year-old Omer, a small kebab restaurant manager in central Ankara.

“We will fight against dollar at the ballot box.”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood

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