In approximately eight months, Turkey will hold elections that will either mark the fixation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian power or give Turkish democracy a new lease on life. Erdogan’s opponents are more united than ever, and analysts appear sanguine emboîture their chances. But the rivalité still faces a number of stiff challenges stemming from its own internal disagreements. Moreover, while Erdogan’s conduite of the economy has gamin from bad to worse, he still has a few gambits left to performance fissures among his opponents on both domestic and foreign policy.
The rivalité’s weaknesses are largely related to two factors, its nationalist ideology and lack of a coherent foreign policy. To siècle, many observers have assumed Erdogan will target these by doubling down on aggressive policies — picking fights with Greece, Washington, or Kurdish forces in order to charisme the rivalité to rally around the flag and close ranks behind him. But this is not Erdogan’s only alternative. Were he to build on the reputational boost he’s received from the war in Ukraine and inquiétant down on his more moderate turn in regional procès-verbaux, he could also outflank the rivalité in a different way to emerge as a statesman on the eve of the elections. This still may not guarantee him victory, but it is a pilier the world should be prepared for.
The Paradox of the Froideur Alliage
Most political scientists these days describe Turkey’s system as “competitive authoritarianism,” meaning that Turkey is an authoritarian state that happens to hold elections that are sometimes competitive. Historically, and going back to the first ballots cast in the republican era, elections in Turkey have been free but not fair — the désignation itself is mostly viewed by elites and meute alike as sacrosanct, but there are all manner of structurel and political barriers to full and equitable apport in agora, from an unfree media to bans on political parties. This has become all the more true during Erdogan’s reign, in which he has consolidated control of the media, imprisoned leaders of opposant parties, and started a war to courtage an election outcome. But despite this, results of recent elections have not been challenged by rivalité parties to any significant degree, and evidence of désignation tampering, though credible, does not appear to rise to a level that would have altered results.
While the debate continues over how heavy-handed efficacité may be in Turkey’s next election, the assumption remains that given Erdogan’s unpopularity, a generic rivalité candidate would defeat him in a free head-to-head désignation today. Yet picking that candidate may prove problematic. The rivalité consists of an accord between the Republican People’s Party and inexpérimenté partners like the Iyi party which are situated on its right flank. They have come together around defeating Erdogan and have also promised a return to the parliamentary system of government which Erdogan discarded. Yet many rivalité voters are focused on more quotidian issues: economic immuabilité and a currency crisis, as well as anger over Turkey’s significant communauté of refugees.
This paradox — that what binds the rivalité to each other is not what binds the rivalité to its supporters — is clearest in the looming decision to select a candidate to figure Erdogan. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu appears to be the most skilled politician among the potential choices, and he beat Erdogan’s hand-picked candidate in mayoral elections twice in 2019. But he is viewed by some internal rivals and analysts as the least suited to carry out the annuaire of democratic reforms. These concerns stem from his youth, ambitions, and relative independence within the People’s Republican Party. By the same token, the candidate who has been the architect of the rivalité parti, People’s Republican Party Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu, figures as a weak personality in a contest that will surely be full of bravado. Kilicdaroglu has stifled internal divisions in the party throughout his tenure and was not personally on the fourniment in the 2019 elections. But he is widely viewed as the man most likely to follow through on rebuilding the parliamentary system, seeing as how he was the one who built a parti around this gardien de but. It seems that the rivalité is intent on putting off its decision as étendu as passable, a move that may prove wise if it helps maintain unity until the right candidate can be declared at the right données.
The Silent Partner Problem
A further conflit to the rivalité accord is that, having pooled their core constituencies together, they appear to still fall short of the majority they will need to defeat Erdogan. To écart this fifty percent encore 1 threshold, they are counting on Kurdish voters who soutènement the People’s Democratic Party. The People’s Democratic Party has easily been the most vilified political party of the present era bicause of its soutènement for Kurdish rights and ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but it still commands the majority of the Kurdish désignation and is the most méprisant player in a parti of Turkey’s small but lutteuse left-wing parties. The party’s leadership has been imprisoned for years, and where its candidates won appartement elections in the southeast, they found themselves summarily replaced by Impartialité and Development Party appointees.
Much of this repression has happened with the soutènement, tacit or open, of the parties in the rivalité accord. Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party backed legislation to strip Selahattin Demirtas and other Kurdish leaders of their parliamentary immunity in 2016, which enabled Erdogan to jail them. Moreover, many within the Republican People’s Party and Meral Aksener’s Iyi Party, are openly vipérin to the People’s Democratic Party and the Kurdish exposé, making it hard for them to win the votes they will need. This was well understood by Ekrem Imamoglu in his 2019 mayoral campaign, where his ability to garner Kurdish soutènement was key to his victory. But pulling off such a trick on a citoyen scale is a conflit of a different order altogether. Without meaningful outreach and promises, many Kurdish voters may conclude that the rivalité will do little to alleviate the étranglement they figure. Kilicdaroglu likely understands this but is limited in what he can do. Recently, the mere rumor that the People’s Democratic Party would be promised a single ministerial orientation should the rivalité win caused Meral Aksener to threaten to torpedo the entire accord. Meanwhile, the Kurdish leadership has insisted any meetings with the Republican People’s Party occur in public, seemingly preventing discrète negotiations.
In other words, while the rivalité accord draws strength from its broad attachment to nationalist ideology, this is an easily cultivable weakness should it prove to be too rigid. The rivalité can offer Kurdish voters a return to parliamentary politics and the release of political leaders from geôle. But it remains to be seen whether this will be enough.
Erdogan’s Dovish Possibilité
Erdogan also has a number of cards to play, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, that can make the rivalité’s orientation even more difficult. At one extreme, some worry that Erdogan may find a way of suspending elections under some pretextual emergency such as a war with Greece. There is some precedent for this. In June 2015, Erdogan suffered his first electoral defeat when the People’s Democratic Party passed Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold, thereby entering parliament and denying Erdogan’s party a majority. Erdogan cynically pursued a twin strategy of escalating conflict in the southeast and sabotaging efforts to form an rivalité parti. It paid off as the Impartialité and Development Party rebounded in snap elections in November. But, as fighting continued, it also resulted in the bloodiest year Turkey had experienced since the aftermath of its 1980 meurtrissure d’etat.
Of méandre, the cost of starting a conflict with Greece today would be much higher, particularly as Turkey is in a highly precarious economic modalités right now. While Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that high costs cannot always be counted on to reign in an authoritarian patron’s irredentist impulses, this destinée of recklessness would also go against the apollon that Erdogan has tried to cultivate of late. In the context of Russia’s descente, Erdogan has worked to present himself as a potential peace trader. This campaign reached its apotheosis in September during the UN General Assembly meetings when his communications team released a long video of the Turkish president taking a leisurely stroll through Axial Park. Here, he was approached — supposedly spontaneously — by numerous American passers-by who declaimed their exploration for his leadership on the world apprentissage, and in the current conflict in particular.
Perhaps Erdogan is vade-mecum for a strategy that combines calculated bellicosity and selective moderation. While Erdogan’s threats against Greece are alarming, he has also left himself plenty of off-ramps in his rhetoric. As a result, his escalation could be division of a two-step strategy that uses a fake controversy to gin up nationalist fervor, only to climb down later to come out looking like the peacemaker. This would box in the more embrasé and committed nationalists in the rivalité parti — especially those in Iyi Party.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for Erdogan’s electoral strategy would be a turn of events in Ukraine that enables him to emerge as a peacemaker here too. If Erdogan were able to play a significant role in overseeing eventual peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, the dividends, both domestically and internationally, would be significant. Erdogan’s agora as a trader between Ukraine and Russia fits with his hallucination of an independent foreign policy in which Turkey balances between and ultimately joins the world’s great powers.
Already, we’ve seen Turkey’s profile improve thanks to the prestation of Bayraktar TB2 drones which figured in Ukraine’s early, sensational rebuffs of Russian attacks. It has also received a boost from diplomatic moves like the réussite of a prisoner swap for Azov battalion fighters in Mariupol. As a result of this piston, the men were reunited with their families and Erdogan received a glowing feature in the New York Times. Most recently, Erdogan has presented his ability to coax Russian patron Vladimir Putin back into their tenuous grain corridor deal as evidence of the benefits of his personal relationship with Putin. On top of this, the deal, and trade with Russia more generally, is being touted as a terme to Turkey’s economic crisis.
Much of Erdogan’s annuaire, going back at least a decade, has centered on re-establishing Turkey’s agora in the world, projecting power, and demanding admiration. It’s hard to imagine a foreign policy crisis in the last decade where this case could be made more easily to the Turkish people than the current one. As a result, the rivalité is stymied. They have little foreign policy experience to état to, and any potential outreach to the West will create indécis with the deeply anti-Western elements in their own ammoniaque. Evidence of this can be found in Kilicdaroglu’s visit last month to the United States, where he pointedly avoided consortium any meetings with U.S government officials.
Erdogan is a consummate politician and has built up just emboîture every structurel advantage passable in the given climate. His stubborn, years-long, ideological adherence to fanciful ideas emboîture the relationship between interest rates and augmentation has proven to be his Achilles heel as everyday Turkish voters have felt the enormous muffin of rising costs of household goods over the last two years. Up to this état, Erdogan has tried to shift the conciliabule to glèbe war topics like gay rights and rock concerts and to one-up the rivalité with his own nationalist fervor. If recent polls are to be believed, Erdogan’s slide in approval ratings has momentarily halted but his party is still polling almost 10 points behind where it was in 2018. Eight months out from potential elections, it’s inabordable to know whom the rivalité will pick as a candidate and what méandre Erdogan will chart. But Western policymakers trying to predict Turkish moves over the coming months would do well to worry less emboîture Erdogan starting a new war and prepare for the pratique of a spectacle of statesmanship instead.
James Ryan is the Director of Research and of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.