Pragmatism or risk? Erdoğan’s choices after local elections

Huffington Post Greece – Apr. 5, 2019

After a difficult election day, the preliminary results of the Turkish municipal elections began to confirm what was expected from recent polls, that the Justice and Development Party is no longer the choice of Turkish voters. Despite this picture, the loss of Istanbul from Erdoğan’s hands did not exist in the most optimistic predictions of the opposition parties. It was a great surprise for everyone. After this shock, we can say that Turkey will certainly not be as it was before these elections. Some may think that their impact will not be significant, since the Justice and Development Party has retained in one form or another the steady mass of its supporters. But, as it was Istanbul that usually defined the leader of Turkey, this is a sign. Leaving Erdoğan’s dominance after nearly two decades, we can say that March 30th is a historic day that will identify Turkish domestic and foreign policy. To understand what is coming, we need to understand what preceded.

Before March 31st

Initially, we must look at Turkey’s internal situation with a closer look at the decline in the popularity of AKP, which of course is related to regional and international movements that directly affected it economically, psychologically and militarily. The voters supported AKP mainly because of its economic success, then about the atmoshpere of internal security and calm that it created and finally the international weight offered by Erdoğan and his party to Turkey after decades of stagnation in every respect. Despite continued economic growth, Turkey experienced last year the fall of the Turkish currency, which was one of the reasons why the people did not support the AKP in these elections. Also, Erdoğan’s and his party’s choices to persons who do not have the charisma or popular support to represent them in the most important cities, especially in Ankara and Istanbul, have had a negative effect on the election results. But there are other reasons for these losses. The alliances that Erdoğan and his party made in the current elections were crowned with complete failure. On the other hand, the opposition parties have achieved much better partnerships. Apart from the above, the most important cause of AKP’s failure was Turkish regional and international policies, which included aggression, risk and lack of pragmatism, which gave voters the sense of instability and the possibility of military, political and economic conflicts, pushing them to safer and quieter candidates, far from the high tones of Erdoğan and his government in the region and internationally.

After March 31st

In the context of this tense scene, confirmed by Erdoğan’s moderate rhetoric with the arrival of the first election results, the next period will determine the outcome of the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. This is the reality under which Erdoğan should personally choose his own internal and international direction, which will either lead him to greater losses or help him overcome future obstacles. So either he will choose the path of pragmatism or the same format he did before March 31st.

Internally, the pragmatic way for Erdoğan demands that he take significant steps in changing the structure of the Justice and Development Party leadership away from favoritism and his historic companions. The choice of Binali Yıldırım, despite Erdoğan’s strong confidence in him, had a clear impact on voters’ choices in Istanbul due to his history as prime minister and head of parliament. A simple record of the views that dominate the Turkish streets proves that the withdrawal from important personalities with popular acceptance, such as Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu, Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan, was associated by the people with Erdoğan’s increased arrogance. Therefore, he faces the need to rebuild his personal relationship with them.

Internationally, Erdoğan is forced to stay as far as possible from the conflict with international powers, namely Washington, Moscow and the European Union. The S-400 deal, which he insists, could drag Turkey into financial problems, as indicated by the Trump warning to impose sanctions if it finally goes ahead. Therefore, the Turkish government, logically, should step back and cancel the deal so as to calm down with Washington. On the other hand, Ankara, if it chooses the realistic path, should not come into conflict with the Russian partner in relation to Idlib. Confronting Moscow at this point means disturbing relations between the two countries, which will seriously affect the Turkish economy, given the relationship between them in many areas, especially in energy and agriculture. Erdoğan, on the other hand, should reshape his vision of the EU so that he will become more open to accept European views on human rights.

The persistence of the Justice and Development Party in its internal and international policy, the lack of tolerance and the refusal to accept its mistakes will not bring good news for the next day. The ongoing confrontation of Turkey with Washington, Moscow’s equitable handling and the conflict with Europe, as before March 31, will surely lead to Erdoğan’s rapid inevitable fall. Despite the discussion that the Turkish opposition, which feels victorious in the battle of the municipalities, is likely to seek early parliamentary and presidential elections, the reality does not indicate the possibility of implementing this step at the moment.

The results of the March 31 electoral campaign were a hard slap for Erdoğan at a very sensitive moment, both internally and internationally. Either it will affect his decisions negatively or it will be a blow that will make him more powerful. The choice is entirely in his hand. In the coming weeks the scene will be clearer. Either it will be the beginning of the end or the beginning of a new phase for the ruling party.