This article was published in Ahval News on June 22, 2018.
Polls ahead: A change, if any, may come only as a temporary relief
Turkey’s voters are heading to the polls on Sunday, June 24. It looks set to be a tight race between the ruling party and a coalition of opposition parties. If none of the presidential candidates exceed fifty per cent of the vote, there will be a second round two weeks later.
The presidential candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince, performed well, but he is nowhere close to the support extended to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose support oscillates around fifty percent. Ince could match Erdogan only if there is a second round and if all those who did not vote for Erdogan in the first round vote this time for him.
Many observers insist that this is the most crucial election in Turkey’s political history, because if Erdogan wins, democracy will be buried once and for all in Turkey. True, Erdogan will use excessive powers to further consolidate his position and further Islamisize society. However, this assessment does not take into account three important factors: First, despite all its imperfections, Turkey has a certain degree of experience in multi-party democracy since 1946. It demonstrated its maturity in June 7, 2015, elections when Erdogan’s AKP was reduced to a minority in the parliament. The opposition parties could not capitalize on this outcome and Erdogan reversed the process in the snap elections held five months later. It remains to be seen whether a similar scenario could be repeated on June 24.
Second, Turkey has serious economic problems that cannot be solved overnight. If the ruling party is re-elected, there is little hope that the economy will recover from the deep crisis it is falling into. If a miracle does not happen, the new government that will be formed by the ruling party may collapse and may be forced to hold early elections. The opposition coalition cannot promise paradise either, because the country’s economy is moving steadily towards an economic bottleneck. It will have to pay the price of the wrongdoings of the present government, it will be blamed for not being able to redress the economy and will be voted out in the next elections.
Third, Turkey has structural problems such as corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy. They cannot be eliminated quickly by a well-intentioned party, less so by a coalition of parties who differ on so many major issues.
While the economy seems to be incurable, the situation is different in foreign policy. All opposition parties, with different priorities, announced that they will make substantive changes to Turkey’s foreign policy. Similar alterations may be made by the ruling party as well, if it wins the elections, because the need for adjusting Turkish policy to the reality in the world has become unavoidable.
Turkey’s Syria policy, which proved to be a failure since day one, is one of them. This failure is acknowledged by several members of the ruling party as well. Turkey’s national interests overlap in several areas with those of the Syrian government, especially on the Kurdish issue. If they cooperate on this particular issue, a more reasonable and equitable solution could be found to the Kurdish question.
Turkey has to give up the defiant rhetoric that it has adopted in its relations with the United States and the European Union. The opposition parties stated in their election manifestos that they will take steps to smooth these relations. If the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wins the election, it has no other alternative but to tone down its rhetoric and normalize these ties.
Both chambers of the U.S. Congress took parallel initiatives to exclude Turkey from the co-production of the F-35 Fighter project. Other problems with the United States include the fine to be imposed on the Turkish state-owned bank, Halkbank, for its involvement in the violation of sanctions on Iran, the extradition of Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen and Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.
Turkey’s relations with the EU are not any better. The ruling party is aware that carrying out structural reforms are no longer a preference but a must.
In other words, a change of government after the elections may bring temporary relief to Turkey but expectations have to be kept at a moderate level.