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Is Turkey headed for political instability?

President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was counting on election gains for his party, but instead the AKP Party lost their majority, raising uncertainty about Turkey’s political future. What do the surprising results mean for the nation, the region and for the U.S.? Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute and David Ignatius of The Washington Post.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And joining me now to look at what the election means for Turkey, the region and the United States are David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post. And Gonul Tol, she is the founding director for the Middle East Institute Center for Turkish Studies.

    Welcome to you both.

  • GONUL TOL, Middle East Institute:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Gonul Tol, let me start with you. How much of a surprise was this outcome?

  • GONUL TOL:

    I think the election results are very much in line with the most recent public polls.

    But I think very people really still expected that 13 percent success by the pro-Kurdish HDP. And the AKP lost much more than it was expected.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This is the ruling party, President Erdogan's party.

  • GONUL TOL:

    The ruling party.

    So, according to the public opinion polls, the AKP vote hovered around 42 and 43 to 44 percent, so this was a big failure for the ruling party.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what's the thinking about why it turned out this way? Why did the Kurdish party do as well as it did?

  • GONUL TOL:

    Well, the ruling party alienated liberals.

    The ruling party, especially Erdogan, President Erdogan, he has become an increasingly authoritarian leader. And the liberal voters who supported this party since 2002, and the party ran on a very liberal campaign and carried out important reforms for Turkey and Turkish democratization, and yet that reform agenda, it lost momentum starting from 2011.

    And that's when Erdogan and the ruling party drifted towards a more authoritarian course and lost the liberal vote. And also the ruling party lost the Kurdish, conservative Kurdish vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As well?

  • GONUL TOL:

    As well. And that was a big problem for the party, and the HDP managed to capture that vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Ignatius, was this equally a surprise for the West, for the U.S. and others watching?

  • DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post:

    What I heard was great uncertainty over the last week as people looked toward this election. It was really crucial.

    If President Erdogan's party had won the majority it was seeking, you would have seen very significant changes in Turkey. Erdogan wanted a presidential executive system, which would have given him much more power, would have continued the consolidation of authoritarianism, as was just said, under his rule.

    This was a huge affirmation of Turkish democracy. Over 86 percent of Turks voted. There was no evidence that I have seen of corruption. The Kurdish party, it wasn't so long ago that Kurdish expression was almost illegal in Turkey. So it was a moment which Turks really took their democracy and pushed it forward. And I think there's generally a lot of celebration in Turkey, not the numbers so much, as this affirmation of how the country should work.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Gonul Tol, where do things go from here? What does President — what do people expect President Erdogan to do? I gather he wasn't seen in public today.

  • GONUL TOL:

    He wasn't, not yet.

    And according to the constitution, the Turkish president will ask Ahmet Davutoglu, the leader of the AKP, to form a coalition government. And the most likely outcome, the most likely candidate is the pro-Kurdish MHP, national — the pro-national — internationalist party, MHP.

    And if that doesn't happen, then the president will call for early elections.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what would that mean if he did?

  • GONUL TOL:

    That would mean instability, because the Turks are still the 1999 — the coalition government, the political instability and the economic instability of the 1990s, those images are quite fresh in the Turkish mind. And I think that will create a lot of instability in Turkey.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You're nodding your head, David Ignatius. How do people see Erdogan's options?

  • DAVID IGNATIUS:

    The financial markets fell sharply today as they looked at this result. As exciting as it is an affirmation of democracy, it's very unclear where Turkey is headed over the next few months.

    If there is a grand coalition, if the A.K. Party, which is — has 41 percent, roughly, as the ruling party, can form a coalition with another party, that's stability. That's the kind of coalition that could lead to restoration of confidence in the markets.

    If there is another set of quick elections, if everything is unclear for the next few months, at a time when there's war on Turkey's southern borders, that would worry people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David, staying with you, what does it mean? Turkey is right in the middle of this incredibly volatile part of the world. What do people think this could mean for Syria, for Iraq and the rest of the area?

  • DAVID IGNATIUS:

    President Erdogan has been very strongly anti-President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It's a personal passion for him.

    And so he's been urging the U.S. to really make this a war against Assad, a war to topple Assad. President Obama is very wary of that. There have been talks in the last week about a new effort by the U.S. and Turkey to create some kind of safe haven along the Turkish-Syrian border that would allow the opposition to train and mobilize.

    Will this political uncertainty make that less likely, more likely? That's very hard to predict right now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, and, in fact, as I was reading, Gonul Tol, it was part — it was part Erdogan's reaction to Syria that was part of what was driving the vote, in the way he had handled the crisis along the border.

  • GONUL TOL:

    That's right.

    Syria occupies a very unique place in Turkish domestic and regional policy. And the government's Syria policy has been quite unpopular. We have two million Syrian refugees in Turkey. And I think Turkey doesn't really have the institutional framework and the legal framework to handle those refugees.

    And that will — I think Turkey's social fabric has changed forever. And that's why, in this election, usually, people don't vote on foreign policy. But Syria has become a matter of domestic policy for Turkey. And if you look at the election result in the border towns, you will see that. There is a huge decline in the support for the AKP.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just quickly, when you said social fabric has changed forever, what did you mean by that?

  • GONUL TOL:

    Well, there are two million Syrian refugees. And we have — the only big minority that Turkey has had is the Kurdish minority.

    And, unfortunately, it has not dealt with the Kurdish minority properly, so now we have another ethnic group and Turkey has to deal with that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David, what about for the United States? All of this is in the context of the U.S. looking at the region, but what are you hearing? I know you're talking to people.

  • DAVID IGNATIUS:

    The U.S. wants a stable Turkey.

    The U.S., I think, will be glad that President Erdogan's effort to get this unprecedented executive power in the presidency has been turned back by the people. They will be glad to see a NATO ally, a longtime friend of the United States affirming its democracy.

    I think the worry is, this is now a very dangerous part of the world and it's a time in which instability in the Turkish government, uncertainty about the future is going to be dangerous for Turkey, dangerous for its neighbors, and worrying for the United States. So I'm sure there are going to be a lot of discussions about policy over the next several week.

    The first decisions have to be made by the Turks and about elections.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, for right now, it's the West and the rest of the world watching and waiting to see what happens in Ankara, in Turkey.

  • GONUL TOL:

    Yes, but I think the European Union is quite happy about the results. The E.U. has been very critical of the authoritarian turn and Erdogan's constant meddling in financial matters in the judiciary, lack of freedom of expression, media freedom.

    So I think this is a result that E.U. would like to — would be happy with.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I was struck by what you said about such a significant gesture for democracy.

  • DAVID IGNATIUS:

    It's a wonderful moment for Turkish democracy.

    Everybody I talked to today expressed that. The only worry is, it's also a period of uncertainty about the future, and then that concerns people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Ignatius, Gonul Tol, we thank you both.

  • GONUL TOL:

    Thank you.

  • DAVID IGNATIUS:

    Thank you.

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