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Turkey's election: What happens now?

Turks rejected a majority mandate for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliamentary elections. But don't expect Erdogan to be chastened and turn statesman. He will likely continue to foment conflict in his quest for constitutional changes to create an executive presidency. Expect brinksmanship as Erdogan positions the AKP for early elections.

U.S. and European officials should discourage Erdogan from reprisals that could inflame tensions and spark violence, creating repercussions in the volatile region.


Supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) wave flags with a picture the jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, during a gathering to celebrate their party's victory during the parliamentary election, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 8, 2015.
Murad Sezer | Reuters
Supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) wave flags with a picture the jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, during a gathering to celebrate their party's victory during the parliamentary election, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 8, 2015.

The AKP did receive 41 percent of the votes. Its victory was never in doubt. However, its margin was less than Erdogan anticipated. The Turkish leader was angling to control 60 percent of the votes in parliament in order to reform the constitution and increase his power. A majority of Turks rejected Erdogan's divisive politics, Islamist governance, and failed foreign policy. Turks want a strong leader, but not at the expense of checks and balances inherent in democracy.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was the big winner, receiving 13 percent, enough to secure seats in Turkey's parliament. HDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtas is a modern candidate with broad appeal to Turkish voters, Kurds and non-Kurds alike. HDP is the first pro-Kurdish party to be seated in parliament.

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According to Turkey's electoral law, parties that receive less than 10 percent cannot be seated in the parliament. Their winnings are divided between qualifying parties. Had HDP not crossed the barrier, AKP would have gained more seats putting it in position to form a coalition government with enough votes to change the constitution. AKP may push for early elections if a government cannot be formed within 45 days.

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Erdogan may be wounded, but he still has the potential to aggress at home and abroad. The peace process with the PKK is stalled. Erdogan will not likely revive it. He may even renew armed conflict with Kurdish fighters in a blatant bid to discredit the HDP.

Kurds in Syria survived the Islamic State's attacks on Kobani. Emboldened by Turkey's election results, their mini-state — "Rojava" (a self-declared autonomous region comprising cantons on the Turkey-Syria Border where Syrian Kurds have established inclusive grass-roots democratic administration) — is closer to reality. Erdogan may try to undermine autonomy for Kurds in Syria through cross-border operations under the pretext of creating a security buffer.

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Iraqi Kurdistan's strategic partnership with Turkey was damaged when the Islamic State attacked and Turkey appeared to do nothing to help. Erdogan's diminished standing with the Turkish electorate will affect prospects for reviving the partnership. Diminished partnership could prevent the transport of Kurdish oil to international markets and adversely affect Iraqi Kurdistan's capacity to confront Isis along its 1,000 kilometer frontier with the Islamic State.

Erdogan has a penchant for confrontation. Turkey must not get a free-pass if Erdogan creates a crisis by attacking the PKK or invading Syria. The U.S., E.U., And NATO should speak with one voice about the costs to Turkey if Erdogan acts impulsively, aggravating tensions with Kurds in Turkey or with Turkey's neighbors.

Commentary by David L. Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser and foreign- affairs experts to the State Department. His recently published book is "The Kurdish Spring: A New Map for the Middle East."