Turkey’s new parliament opens amid coalition search

map_of_turkeyTurkey’s parliament on Tuesday opened for a new session after elections in which the ruling party lost its overall majority, with political parties working to thrash out the first coalition government in over a decade.

Turkey has not seen a coalition since the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and so far there has been no breakthrough in efforts to agree a deal.

With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking on, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Deniz Baykal, who as parliament’s oldest member at 76 is acting speaker, declared the session open.

After a bruising election campaign, Baykal urged for calm in Turkey, saying the “conditions no longer exist for continuing the polarisation of society”.

Wearing the traditional tailcoat and white bow tie of the Turkish speaker, he also called for respect of Turkey’s secular traditions as set out by its modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

But in a sign of the divisions, opposition deputies refused to applaud Erdogan as he was announced by Baykal.

The opening of the single-chamber parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, is a largely ceremonial affair, with each of the 550 deputies individually swearing oath in a marathon event that will last to the early hours of the morning.

But the meeting fires a starting shot for the parties’ formal efforts to agree a coalition after an election seen as one of the seismic events in Turkish politics in recent decades.

It also starts the process to elect the new parliament speaker, with parties set to propose their candidates in the next five days.

While the AKP emerged as the largest party, the results were a blow not only to its authority but also to Erdogan, who had been hoping the new parliament would agree on a new constitution to cement his powers.

The parliament is also more diverse than any other in Turkey’s history with 96 women MPs and three lawmakers from Turkey’s Armenian minority.

– ‘Avoid another election’ –

The AKP have 258 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) 132, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) 80 apiece.

Turkish media reports have said that Erdogan will this week give Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu the mandate to form the new government.

Should the parties fail to form a coalition within 45 days, Erdogan can then call early elections, an option he has warned he will use should the talks fail.

But Turkish markets, which took a beating in the wake of the polls on fears of instability, will be hoping for a swift resolution to the uncertainty.

“Our thesis is that we will avoid another election and a credible coalition will be formed around mid July,” said the chief Turkey equity strategist for Renaissance Capital, Michael Harris.

By far the most likely coalition option is between the AKP and the nationalist MHP, who both share a core voter base of conservatives in the centre of the country.

“Nothing is certain yet. Intentions have been announced by some but no official contact has been made,” an MHP source told AFP.

The Posta newspaper claimed at the weekend that agreement had already been reached between the MHP and AKP, with the job of foreign minister set to go to former presidential candidate and MHP MP Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

Davutoglu denied that any deal had been reached but after a bruising election campaign insisted he was open to a coalition.

The deputy head of the CHP, Akif Hamzacebi, said “we need to try and work on the path of compromise to avoid early elections.”

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