Türkiye: with or without the reis

(To Gino Lanzara)
17/05/23

If it is true that the name of the new president was not extracted from the cylinder of the Turkish electoral consultations, it is however equally true that more than analyzable political indications have arrived, in the light of the exceptional turnout, and certainly not based on opinion polls, which have proved poorly adhering to an acceptable predictivity, and in any case characterized by discrepancies between what is reported by the public agency Anadolu, and the Supreme Electoral Council.

While Erdogan, who has seen the consensus from the large urban centers decrease, accused Kilicdaroglu of having tried to deceive the country, the same Kilicdaroglu who accused Erdogan of want to prevent Turkey's willingness to set the stage for political turmoil over the next two weeks, he said he was certain his victory would only be postponed. Distraction, however, could play some ugly tricks, given that while attention was polarized by the clash between the aspiring presidents, the parliamentary elections delivered a hemicycle where, without hesitation, with 49% of the preferences the AKP prevailed with the nationalist ally MHP with about 100 seats more than the antagonist CHP.

As always there was a crazed splinter, the ultra-nationalist sinan ogan which, with 5,3%, appropriated, for 28 May, the interesting role of tip of the balance of the ballot, given the opposition to Erdogan at 49,51%, but also to the pro-Kurdish parties in support of Kilicdaroglu at 44,88%; Ogan's departure, under these conditions, could favor Erdogan, to whom the Greek foreign minister Dendias has predicted a still long reign, struggling with a decline in popularity due to poor economic performance and evident authoritarian involution.

The electoral results, although conditioned by deep fake generated by AI1, confirm Erdogan's popularity, in the more conservative provinces grateful, above all, for having consolidated the religious position against Kemalist secularism, and satisfied with the refrain which portrays Turkey as a military industrial power; the actual electoral campaign, in addition to the economy, affected the doctrinal role in public life, a sensitive issue for a president who has strengthened religious education in his twenty years of power.

Just the AI ​​of the Turkish independent 140 days (media, ed) offered two possible post-election narratives using the AI ​​image generator Midjourney and the AI ​​text generator ChatGPT. In the first we imagine a defeated and withdrawn Erdogan who, in a dressing gown, is having tea; in the second, in an imperial Türkiye alla Star Wars, travel look at build universal peace.

The economy remains a major vulnerability; in Iran itself no one has ever been able to win the electoral post without boosting the economy; the consequences of the February earthquake were also counterbalanced by the government's control over the flow of information; 90% of the Anatolian media is aligned with the executive and only 20% of the citizenry understands languages ​​other than Turkish; it is no coincidence that the news relating to inflation, human rights violations, the detention of journalists and politicians, the inefficiencies of the relief agencies on the sites of the earthquake have been shrewdly filtered and blocked.

What are the other determining factors?

Ideological and identity belonging in a politically polarized country, the patronage system built by the AKP. 

According to Soner Cagaptay who describes Putin's defender Erdogan as Janus faced, un two faces for those who love Batman and Gotham City, Turkey is now like an onion like never before, a fruit without a core, a democracy for 20 years in the hands of an autocrat ready to undo the last remnants of the rule of law.

Where did Kilicdaroglu fail, a firm accuser of Putin's interference, with respect to the polls? Not in the big cities, but in the internal Aegean, on the Western Black Sea and in central Anatolia, sensitive to attacks on the Alawite identity, so distant from Sunni fundamentalism, and the pro-Kurdish support of the HDP. In these areas Kilicdaroglu has lost more votes than he has gained, perhaps because he has been cleverly portrayed as a Manchurian Candidate supported by the Kurdish PKK, which has made the Kurds on the one hand and the Turkish nationalists on the other wary.

The ballot extended consultations closer to a de facto referendum on Erdogan than to a presidential election, bearing in mind that the travel he proved to be extremely fragile and in need of the interested support of the ultra-nationalist Devlet Bahçeli, able to move in a political context that is both centralized and fragmented, where even access to resources plays a not indifferent role; suffice it to recall how the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu, once confirmed in office, cut 357 million Turkish liras that would otherwise be destined for foundations close to the Erdoğan family. It is the problem of the parties/state, when over time the borders between the two entities blur and the networks of love Lóleo. History teaches it: the possibility of being judged, for an administration in office, raises the stakes for maintaining power, a game that leads to the necessary delegitimization of the antagonist.

Meanwhile the economy is running: on the morning of the 15th the stock market fell; Turkish stocks and bonds declined as the cost of insuring the state debt against the default it increased as a result of keeping interest rates below the inflationary level. The growth of 2001, facilitated by the policies of the previous government, is now a thing of the past.

Geo-economically, a re-established post-Erdogan Turkey could assume the role of partner for the USA and the EU who must review relations with China by diversifying their supply chain; it is no coincidence that the Economist, about 13 years ago, defined Turkey as possible China of Europe, except now turn into an Anatolian version of Argentina.

If the opposition prevails it will face difficult tasks, first of all reversing theErdoganomics, basing itself on certain rules by investing in technology and reorganizing the industrial base. But be careful, the risk that European banks will pay for Erdogan's defeat is real, given that many of them are heavily exposed in the country, necessarily sharing its destiny; according to Bloomberg, despite the reduction in assets, Spanish, French, British and German banks still have investments worth billions.

And Russia?

Don't miss it, don't worry (not much). With a virtual ceremony, Turkey inaugurated its first Rosatom-built nuclear power plant. There is no doubt that Russian-Turkish relations have entered a new dimension characterized by geopolitics and anti-Western discontent. The opposition, while winning, may still need to engage with Russia over its military presence in Syria while continuing to balance on the war in Ukraine to align with the Western narrative.

And after the Kremlin, the White House, which sees in Kilicdaroglu, perhaps too simplistically, a valid and credible alternative, especially in terms of NATO; that Kilicdaroglu is from other dough there is, that a Kemalist is completely compliant, much less. A new political season could open, but the imperative would remain that of not throwing oneself headlong into difficult-to-manage adventures (Teacher Arab Spring). It is no coincidence that Kilicdaroglu told the Wall Street Journal that, if elected, he would comply with Western sanctions against Russia, but he would maintain Russian investments in Turkey. It's clear? And it must also be for the granting of Kit of updating for the F-16, certainly not for the supply of the F-35, given the penalties brought about by the acquisition of the Russian S400 system.

Last relevant actor: Kurdistan

Considering the Kurdish population as driven by a single electoral behavior is misleading given that the electorate differs internally. During the 2018 Turkish elections2about 33 out of 100 Kurds who went to the polls voted for the AKP, 10 for the CHP3 and 57 for HDP4; withccording to the latest research conducted prior to this election, about 21 out of 100 Kurdish voters would have voted for the AKP, 20 for the CHP and 58 for the HDP. Votes for the AKP, devoted to an exclusively anti-terrorist narrative and the most successful party in Kurdish provinces in 2007 and 2011, dropped significantly. 

As Professor Richard Brown would say (look for it, cinematically it's worth it), at this point "I guess the rest of you are waiting for me to spew some profound words of wisdom..." which is impossible due to the lack of the main material (wisdom), and because politics in a realist key is rougher and devoid of idealistic inspiration than Sergeant Major Lorusso (this too is worthwhile), therefore... Erdogan was the demiurge of a an overbearing regime, an absolutist who has managed to weaken part of Turkish society, not unaware of the fact that his family (it is no mystery) has multiple economic activities in its grip with all that it entails in terms of clientelism.

Populism is badly associated with theory that precedes practice, and therefore it is nothing surprising to note that cheap recipes prescriptions have led to inflation, economic collapse, skyrocketing social costs with widespread discontent. Nevertheless, who would really want radical change with all that it entails in terms of instability? But let's add, who has come to terms with such a weakened power, where Kilicdaroglu has managed to coagulate many different souls with a transversal electoral pool by distancing himself from Islam?

The percentages speak for themselves, and give little space to the always possible but improbable surprises; more realistically there could be successive government crises. In their own small way, the Kurds too... count, but they weren't the determining factor capable of breaking the bank, also because the opposing coalition has yet to be interpreted.

What could shift the balance, with Western approval, is the creation of a Kurdish federal state in Iraq capable of filling a political vacuum, not a Greater Kurdistan, but a state flexibly founded on "realist assumptions" and not just religious ones; in short, "rational premises" as politics should be. It is the same rationality that leads us to believe that, in the end, regardless of sides, everyone will try to contain the losses.

It is undeniable that the Turkish world has a religious soul that prevails over a secular one, almost as if it still suffers from insecurities that require constant affirmation; after all, the empire was Ottoman, not exclusively Turkish in terms of nation state.

So what to expect in foreign policy from a Kemalist, should he win? Continuity and not strategic upheavals, as support for Azerbaijan has shown, and as rivalry with Greece has taught since the 70s. Internally, Erdogan's eventual retirement will be correlated to the desire for survival expressed by the system of power accompanying the travel: a twenty-year-old system is supposed to be strong, rooted, and with little desire to yield.

Note of color: ballot day coincides with the anniversary of Gezi Park protests, whose repression marked one of the first authoritarian acts of the then new Türkiye. It won't hurt to remember that.

1 It was astounding to discover in a video that Kilicdaroglu spoke perfect English; independent website Teyit later discovered the video was a fake. Teyit has denied more than 150 untruthful claims related to the election; many of these were deepfake designed to accuse opposition candidates of terrorism. Another candidate, Muharrem Ince, dropped out of the competition after the release of a presumptive s defined a deepfake.

2 Rawest and KSC

3 Republican People's Party

4 Pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party

Photo: presidency of the republic of Turkey