With HÜDA-PAR joining the People’s Alliance led by President Erdoğan’s AKP, we are facing one of the most symbolic developments in Turkey—one that reveals the magnitude of the political change.
HÜDA-PAR is the political wing of Turkish Hezbollah, which has been designated by the Turkish state as a terrorist organization. As part of the recent appeasement, Erdoğan used his presidential authority to pardon a leading Hezbollah figure who had been sentenced to life imprisonment back in the early 2000s.
Beyond the political pragmatism, the AKP’s alliance with Turkish Hezbollah signals that a pro-Sharia radical Islamism is now eligible to become part of the mainstream.
Bearing in mind that Erdoğan has previously secured a political alliance with the ultra-nationalist parties MHP and BBP, “Erdoğanism” today can be seen as operating on two pillars:
First, Erdoğan is an Islamist, which enables him to lead a large coalition of Islamist groups and parties.
Second, Erdoğan represents anti-Westernism in Turkey, which enables him to lead the various nationalist parties. On this account, what appears as Erdoğanism is in practice an Islamist-nationalism. But it should be remembered that Islamist-Nationalism is currently increasing its dosage with more elements.
This is why, if Erdoğan wins the upcoming presidential elections, Islamist-Nationalism is likely to seep into Turkish domestic and foreign policy.
To start with domestic politics: Erdoğan will continue to impose an ideologically driven social, educational, and economic set of policies. For this reason it is prudent to frame Erdoğanism as a regime-change tactic. The results of the upcoming elections will display whether this tactic will succeed or fail.
Thus, many pundits see the upcoming elections—quite rightly—as Turkey’s last chance of exit.
There is no doubt that Erdoğan will continue to rid Turkish foreign policy of Western-aligned orientations. Erdoğanism—a regime that operates through Islamism and Nationalism—must be anti-Western to survive. In other words, anti-Westernism is more than an ideological slogan in Turkey; it is a matter of political survival.
This does not mean that Erdoğan will end his pragmatic understandings with the West. On these Erdoğan has a simplistic, and arguably realistic, view: He believes that the West, particularly the EU, will never turn against him due to its complex set of common strategic interests with Turkey.
Erdoğan knows that European elites are aware that the golden days of Turkey-EU relations are in the past. Mutual pragmatism, he hopes, will continue to tolerate Turkey’s ultra-pragmatic foreign policy, which allows it to benefit from Russian cheap gas, and to retain its veto power in key NATO decision-making processes.
This brings up a more critical question: Does Erdoğanism coincide with Turkish state elites’ strategy of abandoning the pro-Western policy they have supported since the 1980s?
Turkey’s elites embraced the liberal economic and political agenda of the West in the early 1980s. In 1987, Ankara applied for EU membership. Turkey acceded to the European Customs Union in 1996. Finally, Turkey was given the status of EU candidacy in 1999, and negotiations for full membership began in 2005.
Interestingly, almost all political parties took part in that process. The Kemalist CHP was part of the coalition government that signed the Customs Union Agreement in 1996. And it was Erdoğan’s AKP that launched negotiations for full membership. But that pro-Western stance seems today to have been abolished.
Some of the state elites in Turkey, led by Erdoğan but including secular nationalists, no longer believe in the traditional pro-Western paradigm. On the contrary, they believe that it may put Turkey’s unity at risk, mostly because that paradigm requires a liberal agenda on the Kurdish issue.
From this perspective, Erdoğan appears as a populist leader who played a key role in gathering conservative people on the periphery around the precepts of traditional statism.
This is a major shift: those peripheral people, since the early days of the Democrat Party in the late 1940s, have been supportive of a liberal economic and political agenda.
Erdoğan may survive or be defeated in the May 14, 2023 elections. However, a critical question is whether or not Turkey will re-embrace its traditional pro-Western policy.
There is no doubt that the opposition, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is likely to pursue closer relations with the West.
The dynamics that Turkey has recently created are complex—and structural. Some of them are now beyond the abilities and consequences of Erdoğan.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.