Assessing the pros and cons of Turkey’s upcoming elections and predicting their outcome remains an arduous task till the very end. What if Erdoğan wins again? Will Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu become the first leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to lead a government in Turkey since Bülent Ecevit? And, if that happens, how will Recep Tayyip Erdogan react? How will he manage an election loss, especially if it’s marginal? Is the economy a ticking bomb? What is the best, and the worst, possible scenario?
These questions are preoccupying those who are closely following the historical turning point that Turkey seems to be reaching, with the first round of voting next Sunday.
Predictions are even more uncertain about how the ballot results will effect Ankara’s foreign policy. Erdoğan’s main opponent in this election is the economic crisis and the burdens it has brought upon the average Turkish citizen.
One of Greece’s leading newspapers, Kathimerini, asked experienced analysts to summarize their views on what awaits Turkey, its neighbors, and the world in general as we wait to see the what happens.
FTP will be reprinting them in parts until election day.
Ryan Gingeras – ‘Economic recovery will be difficult’
It should be said, from the beginning, that many Turks possess little interest in the opinions of Western observers. What many in Europe or United States believe is “good” for Turkey is often met with suspicion or outright mistrust.
Nevertheless, there is at least one belief that appears to unite a majority of Western observers with most Turkish voters: People throughout the country face dire economic straits.
So far, both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu have presented two differing interpretations of this crisis. Turkey’s current president promises to speedily rebuild areas affected by the February earthquakes. While he has recently declared that the country’s economy is “a model” for the world at large, his reported willingness to reappoint Mehmet Şimşek, who was fired as minister of finance for his dissenting economic advice, appears to suggest that he’s less than confident in this claim.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, has made economic reform and recovery a centerpiece of his campaign. Backed by noted economists and technocrats, he likely will pursue a conventional set of solutions in dealing with inflation, cronyism and foreign investment.
Erdoğan may radically alter his economic policies following the election (which is possible, but perhaps unlikely). It seems more probable that international investors will take heart in a Kılıçdaroğlu presidency and that more positive steps towards Turkey’s economic recovery would follow.
Paradoxically, Kılıçdaroğlu’s victory may be tempered by ill will in the short term. Turkey’s road to economic recovery will be hard and perhaps arduous. As the head of a fragile coalition government, he may be beset by a variety of disagreements and crises, thus undermining his authority and capacity to govern.
On this basis, Turkey could be thrust again into a state of serious political upheaval.
An Erdoğan victory, however, could be far worse. Whatever stability or predictability his renewed presidency may bring, it seems likely he will have other priorities in mind beyond the economy. Among them may be a continuation of his aggressive policies towards Greece (whether a Kılıçdaroğlu presidency would follow a similar approach towards Athens is less clear).
If this is the case, the suffering many people in Turkey currently endure likely will continue and perhaps grow worse.
Ryan Gingeras is a Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California
Cengiz Aktar – ‘No quick fixes for Turkey’s problems’
For many the bad scenario would be the re-election of Erdoğan and his ruling coalition. Despite the victory, the Ankara regime would face overwhelming difficulties to continue like before, not least on the economic front.
All macroeconomic tools are artificially engineered so as to give voters a sense of opulence and normalcy, which is unsustainable.
The economic hardship would have incalculable consequences for domestic as well as external policies of the regime. Moreover, as the regime needs to literally steal the elections, the popular discontent would be difficult to tame. Thus, as the regime would rather concentrate its attention on domestic matters, it would, paradoxically, tone down its harsh rhetoric against neighbors, including Greece. Actually it has already started to act like this. Nevertheless the Russian bond would remain as a major constraint in the way of multidimensional normalization abroad.
As for the other scenario where the “rainbow” coalition would win, domestically there would be a sense of relief among the population subjected for at least a decade to ever-deepening repression.
Nevertheless the opposition ranging from extreme right to extreme left would have a hard time agreeing on any significant policy. Also, one should bear in mind that essential state institutions have been destroyed and/or seriously harmed. Human capital has deserted the country. International sympathy has waned.
All in all, there would be no quick fixes for Turkey’s domestic and external problems. Externally, the problems created by the Erdoğan regime would so intricate to solve that the opposition, moreover void of any consensual approach on any of them, would stall on concrete and viable solutions.
As for Greece, let’s simply not forget that the “occupied islands” nonsense has been invented by the main opposition CHP led by the presidential hopeful Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. We haven’t heard anything that would disavow this stance during the electoral campaign and/or government programs of opposition parties.
Cengiz Aktar is a political scientist, essayist, and columnist.
Alan Makovsky – ‘The economy will be the focal point, regardless…’
It’s a very hard election to call. It’s clearly very close, with a likelihood that the presidential election will go to a second round. The parliamentary election may well determine who wins the presidency, as Turks are not used to French-style cohabitation and may be inclined to favor the presidential candidate of the bloc that wins parliament (although an opposite reaction is also possible, particularly if voters react negatively to a parliament in which HDP holds the balance of power). There are many possibilities.
In general, the opposition is as nationalist on Aegean issues and Cyprus as is the Erdoğan government, but it’s likely to be less provocative.
If the opposition wins, it will need to focus on the economy, and, to that end (and for other reasons), it will require the goodwill of the West. Thus, it is likely to continue the policy of calm in the Aegean that has prevailed since the earthquakes, at least for the first several months and provided there is no unexpected incident.
If Erdoğan is re-elected, he, too, will have good reason to focus on the economy and to support calm in the Aegean, but he is far less predictable and feels far less beholden to the West than Kılıçdaroğlu likely would.
On Cyprus, the opposition is likely to be more open to renewing negotiations than is Erdoğan – again, for the sake of relations with the West – but it is likely to be as tough as any previous Turkish “partner.”
A re-elected Erdoğan would likely adhere to his current no-talk, two-state policy.
A few points to keep in mind, should the opposition win:
CHP has not led a government since the days of Bülent Ecevit in the 1970s, and it hasn’t even been in government as a junior partner since the mid-1990s. There is very little governing experience in its ranks. There are likely to be some growing pains, particularly as it will be navigating its way in a presidential system that CHP opposed, when it was voted in by referendum in 2017.
Moreover, my impression, based on meetings with Kılıçdaroğlu that I’ve attended, is that he is far more interested in and knowledgeable about domestic issues than he is foreign affairs. He will be bolstered by current and former diplomats, but it may take some time before he feels comfortable in foreign policy.
Erdoğan as opposition leader (assuming he doesn’t retire) would probably restrict Kılıçdaroğlu’s policy flexibility by persistently challenging his nationalist pride.
Western allies will shed no tears if Erdoğan loses, and they will want to be welcoming to the new government, particularly if it quickly meets its pledges to implement ECHR decisions (leading to the release of several political prisoners, including the two most famous, Demirtaş and Kavala) and to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership in time for the Vilnius summit.
This conceivably could produce pressure on the Greek and Cypriot governments to be more flexible than they would like on various Turkish-European issues.
Alan Makovsky is a senior fellow for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress.
Michael Rubin * – ‘Erdoğan unlikely to easily accept defeat’
Turkey’s elections will be pivotal. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is Turkey’s second most consequential leader after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who shaped Turkey immediately upon its independence a century ago.
In important ways, Erdoğan is the antithesis of Atatürk. While Atatürk sought to tilt Turkey toward Europe, Erdoğan wants to lead the Middle East. Whereas Atatürk looked toward the future, Erdogan glorifies the past and, while Atatürk embraced laicism, Erdoğan promotes his own narrow and extreme interpretation of Islam.
The best scenario would be that Erdoğan loses and gracefully accepts defeat, and decamps for Qatar to spend his retirement and avoid Turkish justice.
Realistically, however, I am more likely to captain a team and win the next FIFA World Cup than to see Erdoğan willingly step down.
A good but realistic scenario would be a second-round Erdoğan loss. While he would deny the results, perhaps the defection of key supporters against the backdrop of mass demonstrations will leave him hobbled.
A bad scenario, however, would either be an Erdoğan victory or a successful theft of the election from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Erdoğan was emboldened by the failure of demonstrators to react meaningfully to Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas’ arrest.
Would he repeat the playbook? Even worse would be if US and European leaders ultimately affirm such a stolen victory out of fear of Erdoğan’s temper tantrums or his threats to unleash a flood of refugees.
Any Erdoğan victory will be a disaster for Greece-Turkey relations. Emboldened, Erdoğan might use the centenary of the Lausanne Treaty or the declaration of modern Turkey to annex northern Cyprus and seize Aegean islands.
He will need to distract Turks from his economic mismanagement. He is a master at blinding Turks with nationalist polemic. The danger is high.
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.