Türkiye: 20 years in an Ottoman bubble

(To Gino Lanzara)

Wherever elections take place, they leave a mark; starting from the consultations held in North Africa, where the Tunisian political situation stands out, up to the Israeli shore, where the polls have decreed the success of a team still subject to strong internal disputes, the eastern Mediterranean has risen to an area of ​​extreme interest for domestic and foreign political balances.

It is undeniable that the close Cypriot, Greek and Turkish deadlines are leading to conflicting relations of particular intensity, so much so that they are able to involve Libya, Egypt, Israel, as well as the interests connected to the exploration of fossil fuels. The elections of the new Archbishop of Cyprus, Metropolitan Georgios III of Pafos, and of President Christodoulides, contrasted with the affirmation, in the northern part of the island, of exponents close to Erdoğan, not to mention the role that the Orthodox Church continues to play both opposing the partition of the island and maintaining a significant pro-Ukrainian position. The new president himself, in stigmatizing the Russian invasion, compared it to the island's experience in 1974.

Even Greece, recovering from the train tragedy that took place in March near Larissa, will have to deal with an expected (and anticipated) electoral round with very uncertain outcomes. If the center-right coalition was hit by economic difficulties and by an Athenian version of the Watergate scandal, the episodes of corruption in Brussels, which saw the socialist deputy Eva Kaili among others as protagonists, balanced the political situation for the worse. In this context, Prime Minister Mitsotakis has opted to focus on nationalist sentiments and on an evergreen: the confrontation with Ankara, an operation facilitated by the specular policy held by Erdoğan, in turn prodded by his personal and looming electoral nightmare.

There is no doubt that propaganda, as it has always been, is serving as a weapon of mass distraction, useful in deflecting worries induced by a latent economic and recessionary crisis that Ankara's muscular statements can only overshadow, but of course do not settle.

If a Turkish-Hellenic conflict is to be considered as improbable, especially within NATO, the encroachments of the airspaces and the frictions, due to the extension of the different sovereignties of the maritime spaces, between naval units in the Aegean, in the Libyan Sea and in the Levant, with the involvement of Cyprus and various international energy companies such as ENI. We are therefore not so far from more than concrete hypotheses, that in the coming summer, the eastern Mediterranean will present a variation of the current balance. However, from a realistic point of view and alien to ideological superstructures as good as the fireflies for the lanterns on summer evenings, it should still be noted that Greece and Turkey have pledged mutual support useful for obtaining important international positions: Ankara will vote in favor of Greece for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, while Athens will back Turkey's candidacy for the general secretariat of the International Maritime Organization.

In light of the increasing political swell in the Aegean, it is legitimate to think that the forthcoming Turkish elections, called for May 14, the anniversary of the first defeat, in 1950, of the Kemalist Party by the Democratic Party, can be considered as a fault point given that, as never before this year, the response from the polls is characterized by a strong uncertainty, fueled both by the economic crisis and by the earthquake that devastated Anatolia. Remarkable result, the opposition managed to express the name of a unified candidate for the presidency, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the Turkish Gandhi for his vague resemblance to the Mahatma, who will need uncommon tenacity and combativeness to counter Erdoğan, in power since 2003.

The elections will decide not only the permanence of the AKP in power, but also the role that Ankara will play in the international arena. If it is true that lately the president has been penalized by the polls, it is equally undeniable that part of the electorate is not convinced of an opposition presented divided and united only by the desire to defeat the AKP; an understandably not persuasive line to convince a struggling electorate.

The Alewite1 Kılıçdaroğlu, at the head of the association that made Ataturk's political legacy its own, after having managed to ferry the traditional secular and nationalist Kemalist posture towards an unprecedented form of pluralist social democracy oriented towards the West, represents a coalition of six parties. In this respect, the greatest political merit of Kılıçdaroğlu consisted in attracting the bourgeois electorate and those of the large urban centers, which have just recently benefited from salary increases electoral and long neglected for the benefit of the classes proletarians, which have remained Erdoğan's only and true electoral reservoir, a reservoir however less and less present in terms of pay in the economic context.

After the dutiful institutional support offered for the attempted (and discussed) coup d'état of 2016, in 2019 the CHP2 made an unprecedented agreement with the Kurds, which guaranteed him victory in the administrative elections of Istanbul and Ankara: as reported by the New York Times, Kılıçdaroğlu becomes the antithesis of Erdoğan: the president is as aggressive and sanguine as the challenger is calm and not very rhetorical.

Before the earthquake, where the state aid machine gave its worst even in prevention, which did not take into account the anti-seismic criteria3 and which has tried to soothe spirits with a (belated and grotesque) wave of arrests of builders, it is the economy that punishes Erdoğan, whose (erroneous) financial beliefs about interest rates have caused frequent spikes in the contextual inflation currency depreciation. If the lira had been really cheap, one would have expected an expansion of exports and a contraction of imports; the opposite occurred in the first two months of 2023 with a 600% increase in purchases of precious metals on an annual basis. The business cycle has reached its peak where citizens hoard hard currency under the tile.

An economic policy therefore continues erotica who would like to favor growth at the expense of ainflation which, even if reduced to 55,18% compared to 85,5% in October, remains too high so much so that, according to the independent economists of ENAgrup4, would really amount to the 126,91%.

Deep structural problems remain, namely the current account deficit, which means that imports exceed exports, and that the burden of the already mentioned interest rates weighs more and more: when economic growth is rapid, the rates are used to regulate the system with the increase in the cost of the loan. In Turkey the opposite happened and the Central Bank, depending in fact on the government, lost control.

But what does the opposition want? Interpreter of a program as vast as it is uncertain, he intends to proceed with constitutional reforms, return to parliamentarianism, broaden political representation, return to advocating higher democratic standards, aim for EU entry, restore trust with the USA, contain inflation after having accompanied the mass of Syrian immigrants to the borders. True, it is missing peace in the world, but what is more important is that it is necessary to carefully examine what a new executive could actually aspire to, heir to a stormy twenty years.

The Western fear is that, should Erdoğan be re-elected, Turkey would find itself projected towards a conservative model, internationally unreliable.

As the election increasingly resembles a referendum on Erdoğan, Kılıçdaroğlu must reassure the Turks and the Kurdish electorate, the real balance, about the goodness of his coalition's heterogeneity.

Presumably the current government has no interest in upsetting the elections, given that it needs international investments and any disputes would alienate Turkey from Western markets and beyond5. If the president reconfirms himself, Ankara will continue to approach players in the area, including Cairo, Yerevan6, Jerusalem, Damascus7readmitted sensationally in the Arab League, the EU; if instead Kiliçdaroğlu wins, internal stability may not correspond to more fluid immediate international relations and above all, as stated in 2022, impediments to reconciliatory policies could emerge, especially towards Israel (given that from his point of view the dispute Mavi Marmara not concluded), Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Greece. Attention also to the protection policy that would be adopted towards Palestine, and which would make relations with the Jewish state problematic.

On Riyadh, however, the narrative assumes a predictable green-dollar hue, given that the Sauds have declared that they have deposited 5 billion dollars with the Turkish central bank, a transfer which attests to the improvement in relations between the Kingdom and Turkey, especially after the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggiand the support provided to Qatar during the Saudi boycott by Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.

In short, however you look at it, Turkish foreign policy remains, in its frequent unscrupulousness, a puzzle that often makes the country an ally uncomfortable, little integrable, as taught first by the acquisition of the Russian S400 missile system, and then by the opposition to Sweden's entry into NATO, forced to step down, reluctantly, to diplomatically unpleasant deals.

Excluding fools glass ball, let's try to make some assumptions. A few days before the elections, the polls substantially show statistical draws, and reaffirm that the social base lives in justified anguish due to the economic situation and the persistence of corruption. Not to forget the 50.000 dead from the earthquake, accompanied by a now unsustainable burden represented by Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, two political elements: the recalled need for stability, considered by some to be at risk if managed by a too large and heterogeneous coalition, and the polarization induced by AKP. For the leader, however, the return of his politics has resulted in a difficult one umbrella handle: the hyper centralized Erdogan system has left the naked king and exposed to an unprecedented vulnerability. In short, it's good to be king as long as the weather is clear.

Has the opposition been able to turn the aspect to its advantage? Belatedly and only after having shown his weakness in the choice of candidate, fundamental in a country that has always lived with assertive leaders placed in a fragile context; Kılıçdaroğlu will most likely have to beware of the populist Muharrem Ince, capable of attracting the votes of the dissatisfied and of the nationalists, constituting a problem in the event of a runoff.

Speaking of the ballot, what about Erdoğan? He would certainly resort to resurrecting the Kurdish risk, bearing in mind however that, according to Reuters, the authoritarianism of the current executive has pushed the country to 123rd place out of 167 in relation to electoral integrity.

Rebuilding democracy through the polls thanks to the success of the opposition is not certain, and the electoral outcome will involve heavy geopolitical aftermath externally, not to mention the consequences of the economic, judicial, institutional and social collapse, which will put any post-war policy at risk. electoral. Hence, the hypothesis of upcoming early elections that would lead the country to follow Tunisian-type tendencies.

The Anatolian view of sovereignty suggests that no matter who wins the electoral post, Turkey will not position itself diplomatically as international observers wish, so much so that Ankara can be thought of as the capital of a neutral country oriented towards development and not as a full-fledged member of the Atlantic Alliance.

It is useless to hide: in the face of relative autocratic stability, should the opposition win the elections, any change would be traumatic. Should the West still be able to understand politics, it must not and cannot expect too much from a more than pressed Kılıçdaroğlu who will only be able to proceed by small steps, bowing to inevitable economic-financial caveats but without being able to sever trade relations with Russia : it is therefore impossible to return to a pre-Erdoğan foreign policy.

But these, as mentioned, are hypotheses; the competition with an antagonist who has had 20 years to shape a system and who, if he were to lose, would adopt a strategy remains concrete fierce and relentless.

1 Minority practicing a secular version of Islam not recognized by the Turkish state and long persecuted by Sunni Muslims

2 Republican People's Party

3 In 2018, the year of the presidential and legislative elections, the government approved a building amnesty, also remediating buildings that do not meet anti-seismic standards

4 Inflation Research Group

5 The strategy of supporting the economy and the Turkish lira also includes the normalization of diplomatic relations with the Gulf monarchies.

6 Despite the case triggered by the Nemesis monument erected in Yerevan and dedicated to the Armenian genocide

7 Until recently, Erdoğan referred to Assad as a terrorist who killed nearly a million of its citizens; Erdoğan himself said and Turkey has no problem defeating or not defeating Assad, adding that there is no hard feelings in politics.