With ten days to go until critical Turkish elections, polls suggest that any outcome is possible. “But tellingly,” writes Bobby Ghosh for Bloomberg, “an air of desperation has crept into the campaign speeches of the president and senior figures of his AK Party. To distract voters from their disastrous mismanagement of the economy, they are trotting out tired tropes to connect with voters.”
“And then there’s the oldest chestnut of them all: AKP leaders are accusing the West of planning to influence the vote…Interior Minister Soleyman Solyu has warned of a Western “political coup attempt” on election day. Erdoğan, too, has alluded to a “plot” against him. Referring to himself in the third person, he told CNN-Turk television: ‘The West is saying that it is against Erdogan. Their hostile stance toward Erdoğan is a hostile stance toward my nation — my nation will foil this plot on May 14.’”
Ghosh points out that Western institutions like NATO would, in fact, be happy with an Erdoğan defeat—after all, the Turkish president has disregarded the West’s strategic concerns and been a thorn in NATO’s side during a crucial moment as the war rages in Ukraine.
“But even if the election produces the worst outcome for Erdoğan, Western leaders should guard against freighting Kılıçdaroğlu with too much expectation.”
“For one thing, he will likely save the political capital accruing from victory for domestic priorities — such as freeing political prisoners, unshackling the press, taming high inflation, rescuing a weak currency and fixing the damage from February’s twin earthquakes…For another, he shares Erdoğan’s worldview in a number of areas where it diverges from the Western perspective.”
Kılıçdaroğlu is likely to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO—the opposition alliance has promised as much—but it is less likely he will address other issues that bother the West, such as Turkey’s participation in the S-400 missile defense system or Turkey’s refusal to join NATO allies in sanctioning Russia. According to Ghosh:
“Like Erdoğan, he will argue that Turkey can play a more useful role as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine — and a conduit through which Ukrainian grain can reach the wider world.”
“Kılıçdaroğlu will disappoint Westerners expecting major change is Syria, specifically in his dealings with the Kurdish groups that have helped the West in the fight against ISIS.” He points out that the opposition alliance, like Erdoğan’s coalition, contains nationalist elements that will “stay his hand on Kurdish issues.”
“Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to reset relations with the West, and there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity. But even if there is a change in government in Ankara after May 14, its priorities will be very different than those of Washington or Brussels. The West would be wise to manage its own expectations.”
To read Ghosh’s full article in Bloomberg, click here.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and don’t represent those of the Free Turkish Press.