Turkey coalition talks fail; new elections loom

AP News
Posted: Aug 13, 2015 12:59 PM
Turkey coalition talks fail; new elections loom

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Efforts on Thursday by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to forge a coalition alliance with the country's pro-secular party failed, edging Turkey closer toward new elections as it grapples with escalating violence.

Davutoglu said discussions with pro-secular party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu were frank but the two party leaders could not reach common ground for a power-sharing deal.

"The likelihood of going to (elections) has increased. In fact, it has become the only option," Davutoglu said after the talks that lasted less than two hours.

He did not say when the elections could be held but said a date should be set "at the closest time possible."

Davutoglu's Islamic-rooted ruling party lost its majority in June elections, forcing it to seek a coalition to remain in power. The deadline for forming a government is the end of next week.

The prime minister could still turn to the nationalist party for a partnership, but that party's leader has ruled out joining any party in a coalition. Another option is for the ruling party to form a minority government but that would need the support of another party in a vote of confidence.

By tradition, a party leader who fails to form a government must give other parties a chance to do so, but Davutoglu gave no indication he would.

The development pushes Turkey into political uncertainty at a time when it is faced with a sharp surge of violence and the country is taking a more front-line role in a U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported to favor renewed elections in the fall, in the hope that the ruling party, which he founded, can regain a parliamentary majority. Officials say the party's grassroots are also opposed to a coalition with the pro-secular party.

In recent weeks, dozens have been killed in renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish rebels, while Turkish jets have conducted air raids on IS targets in Syria and Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. U.S. jets on Wednesday launched their first airstrikes against IS targets in Syria from a key Turkish air base.

Critics have accused Erdogan of fomenting turmoil to highlight the need for a strong single-party rule, and to increase support for the ruling party by winning back nationalist votes and by discrediting a pro-Kurdish party he accuses of having ties to the Kurdish rebels.

The June election results were a major blow to Erdogan, who flouted impartiality rules to campaign for a supermajority for the ruling party that would have allowed it to usher in a system giving him increased powers.

The Turkish currency dropped to a record low of 2.8 against the dollar after the talks collapsed, losing some 1.5 percent in value.

Davutoglu said there was no need for pessimism and compared elections to a "vaccine" that would help Turkey return to its old heath.

Kilicdaroglu suggested that Davutoglu never sought a true coalition alliance, but was looking for a short-lived government that would take the country to early elections.

"We have not received a coalition proposal. What we were proposed was a (caretaker) government for elections," Kilicdaroglu said. "A historic opportunity was missed."

Delegations from the ruling party and Kilicdaroglu's secular party have held a series of meetings in search of common ground for a partnership despite their deep-seated rivalries.

Davutoglu said the two parties were poles apart on foreign and education policies and differed on the length of the coalition. The ruling party favored a short-term alliance, while the pro-secular party favored a long-term partnership.

The pro-secular party is strongly critical of the government's policy on Syria, demanding that it abandon its insistence on Syrian President Bashar Assad's removal. The party also wants improved relations with Egypt and Israel.

Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan earlier this month of obstructing coalition efforts, but Davutoglu insisted that the president never discouraged the talks.