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Thursday, 1 December 2022

Turkey: After Erdoğan?

On 23 November 2022 SESSOX held a panel called “Turkey: After Erdoğan?” that focused on what awaits Turkey if Erdoğan is voted out of power in the coming presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be held no later than June 2023. The event was chaired by Dimitar Bechev (Oxford School of Global and Area Studies) and the speakers were Sinan Ciddi (Marine Corps University) and William Park (King's College London).

Sinan Ciddi started by explaining why it is important to ask this question now and provided the background to the elections. He stated that this is the third time that President Erdoğan is running for presidency but his abilities to get re-elected are at its lowest. This is because of the growing resentment and anger among Turkish citizens due to exceptionally high inflation rates (officially 85%, but 150-160% according to non-governmental sources) and the devaluation of the Turkish lira against the USD and the Euro. Turkish society is also highly polarized, and the current government does not seem positioned or inclined to set the country back onto an even political and economic keel. Ciddi commented that the country has also become an isolated and distrusted country among its traditional partners and allies. Developments such as the negotiations with regards to the proposed NATO-accession of Finland and Sweden and the acquiring of Russian military and intelligence technologies compound the country’s international reputation, which in turn impacts the country’s economy. He then highlighted the erosion of the judiciary system, the lack of rule of law and the difficulty of governability with the presidential system. Against this background, he suggested that the requirement of achieving 50+1% of votes – a system that President Erdoğan designed himself - might be a challenge for him in these elections although he is re-gaining some support that he has lost.Ciddi then moved on to describe who stands to challenge him. He described the Nation Alliance, which is composed of six parties in the Turkish Parliament apart from the governing AKP and the nationalist MHP. He argued that, despite the expectations for the Nation Alliance to come up with a strong program and nominate a credible and charismatic candidate, they have not yet done that and that we know very little about what they stand for. What they have promised so far is to transform the system back into a parliamentary system, to re-institute the rule of law, and to re-establish ties with Turkey’s former allies and partners, especially the US and the EU. However, Ciddi believes that the programs, publications and platforms being rolled out need to be more concrete and should be expressed louder. He then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of different candidate nominees and stated that Ekrem Imamoğlu stands a greater chance to win compared to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Mansur Yavaş.

William Park shared two observations. The first one was that the system sometimes shapes the way we offer narratives about the system. In other words, Erdoğan seems relatively less popular within the presidential election system which he has devised. However, the 30-40% rating at the polls would not look bad in some other electoral systems; it might have been enough, for instance, to form a government in the UK elections. He also pointed out that there is a group in the Turkish society that is significantly benefitting economically from his rule. Therefore, he drew attention to the negativity surrounding Erdoğan.

His second observation was that, apart from putting forward a detailed policy proposal, the real reason why the AKP won in 2002 was because the previous parties have discredited themselves by inducing or ruling over an economic collapse in Turkey. The only message the AKP needed to convey at the time was that they had nothing to do with the crises and that they are coming up with something new. Parks asked if we can translate this dynamic into now and say that the Nation Alliance is also trying to display themselves as ‘something other than the current government’. That might be why, he suggested, that they are not announcing a more concrete policy proposal but are focusing on differentiating themselves from the government. Moreover, he argued that if Imamoğlu becomes the candidate he might try to widen the electoral base and appeal more to the Kurdish voters. However, with the very nationalist İyi Parti in the alliance, that might cause a fragmentation within the alliance. He argued that this might be one explanation as to why they have not announced the candidate yet.

The Q&A section explored the extent of the use of religion to gain support for the election, what the foreign policy approaches will and should look like after the election in either scenario, whether an economic collapse should be expected, and if so before or after the elections, and Erdoğan’s power within his own political circle. Ciddi responded by saying that in either case, Turkey would need to stop threatening war with Greece and Cyprus, and put forward a persuasive legal case to solve the issue on the Mediterranean. It would also need to dispossess the S-400 missile system in order to establish seemingly good relations with the NATO and the US. About the economy, he suggested that negotiations would need to be made with the IMF and the interest rates should be raised, and he again drew attention to the need for the Nation Alliance to express their economic proposal more clearly.

Asli Tore (ESC and SEESOX Research Assistant)  

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