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.
Nilgün Arısan Eralp – ‘EU accession is not possible in the near future’
If the opposition alliance wins (assuming that we can have free and fair elections), and opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu defeats President Erdoğan, bringing an end to his two-decade hold on power, first the efforts will concentrate on stopping the democratic backsliding in the country, putting emphasis on rule of law and fundamental freedoms, and political prisoners like Kavala and Demirtaş will be released.
An orthodox economic policy seems to be obligatory, it will be implemented together with experienced bureaucrats who will be back in their respective institutions and a serious fight with corruption will start. The new administration will almost certainly make a sincere effort to improve relations with Turkey’s Western allies and respect its multilateral commitments.
Although the opposition seems to be serious about EU accession, they know it is not possible in the near future. They will try to alleviate the lack of mutual trust by putting an end to democratic backsliding and emphasizing cooperation with the EU in several mutually beneficial areas.
If Erdoğan remains in power, he might be forced to leave the unorthodox (or “unique”) economic policy he has been pursuing in order to be able to put an end to the depreciation of the Turkish Lira and attract foreign funds, but I do not think that he can put an end to corruption and nepotism.
Furthermore, I am afraid Ankara’s democratic backsliding and unpredictable and sometimes confrontational foreign policy will continue. Anti-Western rhetoric may be reinvigorated in line with the developments. EU accession will be totally off the agenda and the transactional nature of the relationship with the EU will be strengthened.
If the current administration remains, the current honeymoon that is mainly the result of the prompt reaction by the Greek government and the Greek community to the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey and a visit by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias might continue for a while. However, in case of another domestic crisis, the aggressive rhetoric might come back to the relations.
If the opposition wins the elections, although the existing problems might remain, they will be dealt with with diplomacy and dialogue without a poisoning narrative. There will no verbal attack on the territorial integrity of Greece and international law will form the basis of the relationship.
The policy towards Greece, like the foreign policy in general will be an institutional one based on the knowledge and expertise of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, in the medium term, cooperation in energy – as proposed by Dendias – tourism and other areas might start.
Nilgün Arısan Eralp, Director, Center of European Union Studies, Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey
Yavuz Baydar – ‘An Erdoğan win would be a pyrrhic victory’
There are two likely scenarios, regardless of which camp gains the majority in parliament, where even the balance between the number of seats seem to hang on edge.
Whoever wins, there will be high tension in the aftermath.
Despite the euphoria in the opposition front, Erdoğan has recovered lately, and may end up as a winner, albeit by a narrow margin. Such a result will be interpreted by him as another “carte blanche” to push Turkey from a hard-core autocracy to a consolidated authoritarian rule. He will tighten the screws more severely, trying to dwarf the opposition.
But, it may be a pyrrhic victory over a ruin: It will only deepen the economic crisis, whose consequences will be an even more confrontational and isolated Erdoğan, who, like Maduro, will have to unleash a survival game on a tightrope walk, approaching closer to autocratic rulers in Asia and Middle East.
We may see an unchanged attitude vis-a-vis the USA and NATO, and a continuity in offensive foreign policy regarding Syrian Kurds and Cyprus.
The second likely scenario is a Kılıçdaroğlu win, disregarding the breakdown in parliament.
Certainly, it will ease the tensions considerably at the initial stage, emboldening the anti-Erdoğan camp. However, Kılıçdaroğlu will not only have inherited a ruined economy, but – regardless of how big a margin he wins with – he also will face a task of handling a massive block of bureaucracy, mainly shaped from top to toe by Erdoğan and his corrupt allies.
His third challenge will be the very opposition block whose unity is set sooner or later to implode, because of potentially clashing wills due to ideological diversions and personal ambitions within. The fourth challenge will be on how he handles the presence of the pro-Kurdish YSP party’s MPs, in terms of peace process demands.
In any case, this scenario includes the high likelihood of early elections within a year or so, due to the instability it signals.
How the result will affect Greek-Turkish relations will be, in any case, up to how the post-election approach of Turkey’s key ally, the US, and the EU, will be. If Erdoğan wins, the tensions may re-increase, as his slow-motion isolation (on the basis of transactional relationships) will continue. The geopolitical border between West and East will take deeper roots along the Evros River and in the Aegean. But Erdoğan is certainly aware that any open aggression to Greece may lead to his downfall.
If his contender wins, it will again be up to how Washington stages the choreography. Kılıçdaroğlu is not at all hostile to Greece; all he has to do is to regain control over the army, restore the Foreign Ministry, appoint a rational minister over it, and insulate his nationalist partners’ emotions and provocations. He will need all the help he can get, because Islamists, nationalists and pro-Russian elements will remain in action.
Yavuz Baydar is the Editor-in-Chief of the Free Turkish Press.
Aslı Erdoğan – ‘A brake, on the path to hell’
I tend to believe that these are the most important elections since 1950, when the Turkish Republic had the first real elections, starting a regime with more than one party. The victory of the opposition Democrat Party had very soon turned into a huge disappointment, with mass arrests of leftists in 1951, then a cycle of military coups started and shaped the political scene in Turkey almost till now.
Erdoğan has so far accomplished his goal of gaining a full monopoly of the state, he has absolute control not only over the government, but also the judicial system.
Practically this means anybody who catches his attention ends up in prison!
HDP, one of the very few parties with a real democratic agenda, is entering this very crucial election with almost all its leaders in prison. Erdoğan’s goal is to finish up his project, to consolidate his power also from the “ideological” point of view, – i.e. to build up a more “Islamic” society which would invariably mean more and more oppression of women, gays, Alevis and seculars, among others…
It seems like a desperate crossroads, on the one hand a “Kemalist” party, continuously compromising to five right-wing partners and playing the card of “nationalism,” and on the other, a dictatorship fast and dangerously consolidating and “cleaning up” the last remains of democracy and secularism…
On the one hand, I am trying not to build up all my hopes on this election, as my expectancy from the opposition is only one thing: Perhaps they can put a brake on this car speeding towards hell!
If we can’t slow it down now, I am afraid, it will be far too late in the next elections. Sure, I do not expect an automatic democratization from Kılıçdaroğlu and his coalition partners, but if he keeps a few of his promises, like the release of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, it would mean a lot for us. It would mean a fresh breath, a glimmer of hope.
Imagine… There are hundreds of people who are waiting for the elections simply to be released from prison!
Freedom of expression! It is a joke in today’s Turkey! Media, the internet, academies, theater, all you can imagine is suffocating under heavy censorship, journalists are either “in” or “out,” meaning in prison or out of Turkey, academics, actors, artists, film directors, singers are escaping from Turkey; theater plays, caricatures, books get banned routinely. (Even my book of essays, “Not Even the Silence Belongs to You Anymore,” with the tittle borrowed from Seferis, was recently banned.)
All I can expect under such circumstances is just a break, relief for some time from continuous court cases and police scrutiny. Or, let me put it this way, all I can expect perhaps is a non-biased judge in the court room, a prosecutor who wouldn’t arrest me after receiving a phone call!
This is precisely how I was arrested. With “special orders” from the “top.” I had started my column back in 1998 at Radikal, and had written my most “provocative” articles back then touching on almost every taboo, torture, rape, prisons, Kurds…
But even in the late 90s, although I suffered from regular threats, I had never faced a court case. It came all of a sudden. In August 2016, only one month after the attempted coup, I got arrested on the pretext that I was on the advisory board of Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper, and I was charged with 302, “the destruction of the unity of state.”
The prosecutor asked for a life sentence, for being the literary adviser to a legal newspaper. (I think the real reason behind my arrest is that my articles about the atrocities the military committed in Kurdish cities caused huge anger, the fact that I am not Kurdish even augmented the reaction, I was “a traitor” in their eyes.)
I was released after four and a half months in prison, but the court case lingered on for more than five years. (I was finally acquitted of all charges.) All these years I have tried to survive in a foreign country (Germany), dealing with severe health problems aggravated by prison as well as post-traumatic anxiety, all these years I have been… only waiting.
Waiting for something I cannot define, not even dream of! There is no more Ithaca for this female Odysseus – probably there never was. I am thinking of returning to Turkey, independent of the political situation.
I know that the risk for me going back to prison is high, but only “there,” in my “imagined homeland,” in my own language, my words have a meaning.
And so does my life. When the meaning is lost, all else will be lost.
Aslı Erdoğan is an author, human rights activist, columnist, ex-political prisoner, and particle physicist.
Gökhan Bacık – ‘Last exit before a full-blown regime change‘
The good scenario, for people like me, is that the opposition – i.e. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – wins the presidential elections. Many see the upcoming elections as the last exit before Turkey’s full-blown regime change.
If Erdoğan wins despite a collapsed economy, Islamists would read this as another blank check for their ideological agendas.
The bad scenario is Erdoğan winning the elections. Erdoğan will then easily finalize his transformation of state institutions in line with his Islamist-nationalist outlook. That practically means almost 30 years of Islamist rule in Turkey, enough of a period to have an Islamist generation of bureaucrats, soldiers and judges.
Then this would prove that the West’s eastern border is no longer Turkey, but Greece.
A presidency of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will indeed ease the tension with Greece. However, the Turkish opposition is also nationalist.
To a large extent, the typical Turkish view of Greece is similar, no matter whether one is Islamist, nationalist or secular. In general, Turkish identity has failed in developing a rational view of Greeks and Armenians. It is shaped by nationalist and emotional elements, which makes the subject a useful means for politicians.
Gökhan Bacık is a Professor at Palacky University, Czech Republic.