Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 617, p. 39, on Feb. 10
As the Turkish presidential elections are approaching, it is important to monitor the evolution of internal, regional and international developments that affect Turkey. It seems that this time the election will not be a walk for Erdoğan and his party. Initially, apart from the same, two persons have expressed their intention to enter the upcoming election battle. The first is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, and the second is Meral Akşener, a former member of the Nationalist Movement Party. Some sources speak of the intention of former Turkish President Abdullah Gül to be also a candidate who, if confirmed, will bring about a significant change within the Justice and Development Party and should rather be prevented.
Meral Akşener is one of the most hostile to Erdoğan. She took up the position of Interior Minister in 1996 and then moved to several parties, one of which was friendly to Erdoğan. Akşener announced a few months ago the establishment of her own party, in which internal conflicts broke out very soon. This debilitating situation makes her chances too weak in the forthcoming elections. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, the strongest party of the Turkish opposition, is a professional politician with very good relations with regional powers, and especially with Iran. He may have some chances but the current situation shows that the atmosphere is not in his favor. The most important name, if confirmed, is Abdullah Gül, who is a member of the Justice and Development Party. If he declares his desire to be a candidate, it will mean that there is an important trend within the ruling party that is not satisfied with Erdogan’s internal and foreign policy, who has begun to take a shift in absolutism, especially after the failed coup on July 2016.
Over the past six years, there have been multiple fluctuations in the relations of today’s Turkish administration with the countries of the region. Turkey’s relationship with Qatar is at an excellent point, which has led to the opening of an enormous Turkish military base on the territory of the friendly country, while economic co-operation between the two countries has exploded. Turkish relations with the rest of the Gulf countries are sometimes passed through periods of inertia and sometimes tension. Also, relations with Iran have evolved positively with regard to the Iraqi Kurdistan crisis, despite contradictions between the interests of the two countries in the Syrian crisis. Finally, the “Operation Olive Branch”, launched a few weeks ago with the support of the Syrian armed opposition, whose human cost has gradually increased, is a fact that could complicate the domestic and international atmosphere around it and may affect his Erdoğan’s chances in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
With French President Macron’s prevalence on the European scene, in the absence of German leadership and the uneasiness after the recent German parliamentary elections which were not positive for German Chancellor Merkel, relations between Europe and Turkey entered a peaceful state. The US side, despite contradictory statements by its officials on the “Olive Branch”, has no high degree of convergence with Erdoğan and his government. The issue of the US Embassy staff arrest in Ankara remains open, as is Turkey’s role in breaking the economic embargo on Iran. On the other hand, Turkish warnings to US forces in northern Syria may increase tensions between Erdoğan and the US government, affecting the upcoming Turkish presidential election. Finally, while the Russian-Turkish relations that have been developed over the past year have come to an end with the signing of the S-400 agreement by Ankara in recent days as a result of the Afrin operation, Russian sources are pessimistic about future relations between the two countries in the Syrian crisis.
Generally speaking, much of the Turkish people still support the policy of Erdoğan government in regional and international affairs, but that does not mean that things have stabilized. The Turkish people are interested in two major issues: economy and security. Turkey’s economy is in a phase of recovery as a result of restoring security. The “Olive Branch” operation is still in its infancy and its effects are limited, but the war can move within Turkey at any given time and the bombing of Ankara by a Kurdish militia might not be the last. Thus, the Afrin operation can either give Erdoğan a significant impetus to the upcoming elections or is a nightmare that will erase popular support for his face.