12 August 2015
The last German federal election was held on Sunday, September 22, 2013. The Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) led by Chancellor Merkel won nearly 42% of the vote and nearly 50% of the seats in the Bundestag (just five short of majority). However, their coalition partner Free Democrats (FDP), failed to meet the 5% vote threshold. Thus, the CDU/CSU and the main opposition party Social Democrats (SPD) started talks for a grand coalition. After five weeks of intense negotiations they reached agreement. Three party leaders signed a 185-page document on policies to be followed by the new government. The SPD then submitted this document to a vote by its members who approved it. On December 17, the Bundestag elected Angela Merkel as Chancellor and the new government was sworn in. In other words, the political process took nearly three months.
Turkey held parliamentary elections on June 7, 2015. This time the voters denied the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) a parliamentary majority. This left the country with two options: a coalition government or new elections. Meetings have been taking place for a grand coalition but the outcome remains uncertain at best. I briefly mentioned the 2013 German election and the formation of the present Merkel Government because those who favor a grand coalition in Turkey often refer to the German example.
When one looks at the time the Germans took to form a grand coalition there is no reason for us Turks to despair. It took them three months and for us it has been only two. But, there are differences.
• Germany was not a polarized country,
• It did not have a regime/democracy issue,
• Neighboring Poland was not facing huge political, sectarian and security problems.
• Large swaths of territory in Poland and the Czech Republic were not taken over by a medieval terrorist organization,
• Neighboring Czech Republic was not fragmenting as a result of a four year civil war with no end in sight,
• Germany’s obsession with taking down the Czech President had not led to endless trouble,
• Two million Czech citizens had not become refugees in Germany,
• Germany had not been advocating a safe zone/no-fly zone in the Czech Republic and receiving scant international support,
• Germany had not remembered NATO only after a terrorist attack close to the Czech border had claimed 32 lives,
• Germany was not hitting terrorist bases in Poland,
• Those terrorists were not targeting the German army and security personnel in Germany,
• Germany’s relations with the US were not under strain,
• Germany had not upset her relations with many of her neighbors, and
• German economy had not entered a critical period.
Yet, the Germans succeeded in forming a coalition. And, that is one of the many reasons why they are leading Europe today. Chancellor Merkel plays an important role in European affairs as in efforts to contain the Ukraine conflict. Her coalition partner, Chairman of the SPD and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel was the first Western high official to visit Iran after the deal because German interests matter.
On Monday PM Davutoğlu and Leader of the Opposition Kılıçdaroğlu met for 4 hours and 20 minutes to review the results of the “exploratory” coalition talks between their representatives. The adjective “exploratory” is generally used to characterize diplomatic talks between countries when parties adamantly refuse to commit themselves to anything even by virtue of having sat at the negotiation table.
Hours before the meeting, Mr. Davutoğlu started to follow Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu on Twitter. For some, this was a “political signal” or “a message”. I would have thought that the Iran nuclear deal constitutes a much more significant signal to any set of adversaries sitting across from each other at a negotiation table. Can’t they simply say, “The P5+1 and Iran have done it, why shouldn’t we?”
During the meeting the PM offered his interlocutor dinner. According to the Turkish media the host offered his guest okra soup, a cold plate of olive oil dishes, mixed grill, salad, cake, coffee and tea. The menu it seems did not contain a political message. Brussels sprouts with the mixed grill, for example, could have meant greater emphasis on our relations with the EU and pleased Kılıçdaroğlu. The two leaders will meet again during the week and a frustrated country will understand whether a deal has been struck or not.
Last night I watched PM Davutoğlu once again defend his Syria policy on BBC World. It appears that Turkey will not find its way out of the Syrian labyrinth any time soon. One would be very brave to associate his party with this policy through a coalition government.
Winston Churchill, in a 1939 radio broadcast, said this to describe Russia:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests.”
These days Turkey reminds me of this and I am anxious to see if we have a key, any key…