In the presidential poll, most of the usual AK Party voters – some 49 percent at the last elections – voted again for Erdogan. Added to this were some votes from the MHP, which did not field its own candidate. However, some strategic-minded AK Party voters appear to be tiring of the presidentʹs perceived arrogance, problems with the judiciary and Turkeyʹs economic decline. They chose to punish their party by voting not for the AK Party, but for the MHP instead.

Key to this support for the MHP is a strong belief that the Turkish state faces an existential threat. Voters worry about the U.S. supply of weapons to Syrian Kurds, affiliated with the outlawed Kurdish Workersʹ Party (PKK) and about prominent members of the Gulen movement, considered responsible for the failed coup of 2016, finding safe haven in Germany. In their eyes, no opposition party is able to address these foreign policy issues.

Votes gained from the AK Party enabled the MHP to compensate for losses to the newly established centre-right nationalist Good Party (IYI Party). This new party also gleaned some votes from the CHP, especially nationalists who believe the established party should take a harder line against the HDP.

CHP presidential candidate Ince outshone his own party as the only runner to gain support from all three segments of society. He visited Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned HDP presidential candidate and promised an equality-based solution to the Kurdish issue. He said that the headscarf ban would never return. He promised that all the economic support given by the AK Party government would continue and even grow.

The deadlock of division

Ince was able to convince some, but the same promises were not heard from the CHP, meaning the party lost out on the groundswell of support for its candidate. Potential CHP voters, especially in the West, voted for the HDP, hoping to push it over the election barrier and thus reduce AK Party dominance of parliament. Conversely, some HDP voters preferred Ince for the presidency. This was perhaps also symptomatic of an election campaign hobbled by the large proportion of key HDP figures who remain in prison.

Thus it was that the divisions in Turkish society brought about such a fragmented set of results. Despite minor changes in the electorateʹs behaviour, voters tended to stick to the same pre-election alliances. And, as analysts like Agirdir say, the only way to break the deadlock will be to produce policies that convincingly address the demands and concerns of all three segments of society.

For now President Erdogan, with strong executive powers but no parliamentary majority, will have to rely on the support of the MHP. This does not bode well for Turkeyʹs EU ambitions, or for the resolution of the Kurdish issue. And, as has been proven in the past, the MHP can prove capricious – the AKP may well face challenging times ahead.

Ayse Karabat

© 2018

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