Erdogan won again … now what?

2 min read

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured a third mandate at the helm of Turkey. “We are not the only winners, the winner is Turkey. The winner is all parts of our society, our democracy is the winner,” he said on the night of the elections, adding that “the Turkish century” is to come.

While it wasn’t 100 percent sure before May 14, the victory achieved in the run off, extending his tenure at the top position of the country into a third decade, gives him an unprecedented authority.

Thus nobody should expect a 180-change.

There might be small adjustments, as he has to fight a sky-high inflation, while the value of the Turkish lira is at the bottom of an abyss; and has to rebuild his country after the worst earthquake to hit it in decades.

But as President Erdogan can thank his victory to a great extent to conservative voters, it’s unlikely that he’d change course on promoting Islam, on his approach to LGBTQ+ rights or pushing for greater independence for his country. If something, one can expect even more shift to nationalist and Islamist values.

This means, among others that he is unlikely to abandon Russia, either.

Not only because Turkey relies on Moscow for energy and tourism revenue, but also because Erdogan has, for years, aimed at having more balanced with the rest of the world, including China and Russia. Even at the price that the balancing act angered his allies in NATO.

With that, he taught a lesson several times. A lesson that was learned in one of the darkest hours of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, but seems to have been forgotten since. That moment led to the creation of a direct line between Washington and Moscow, as people realized that you have to talk even to your enemy, there is no other way to avoid a catastrophe.

President Erdogan and Turkey, not having completely alienated the rest of the world with insisting on an only black-and-white foreign policy, have proved to be just as indispensable as that phone line. On several occasions. For example with negotiating a safe passage for Ukrainian wheat via the Black Sea.

That’s why his victory got hailed from both sides, French President Emmanuel Macron expressing his hopes of facing “huge challenges together” about the same times as Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his congratulations. President Putin’s message on the Kremlin’s website was clear, he said that the election was a “clear evidence of the Turkish people’s support for [Erdogan’s] efforts to strengthen state sovereignty and pursue and independent foreign policy”.

So, it is unlikely that this successful (for Turkey) course would be changed in the future.

Turkey is likely to continue the same policy as before the elections: keeping the West as close as Ankara’s interests dictated, but, in the same time to try to normalize its relationships across the Middle East, mainly with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Neither is it likely that President Erdogan would actively pursue EU accession (a process that has been officially on a standstill since 2018), as it would require him to change the ideological foundations of his presidency. Something he is not ready, and, based on the results of the election, doesn’t need to do.

While the (now hypothetical) win of the opposition forces could have maybe changed this (though the real extent of the turn would be questionable) Turkey’s accession wouldn’t have become an issue, given that neither the Western Balkans, nor Moldova has made any significant progress in the last years and there is still the issue of Ukraine.

Turkey’s relations with the EU will probably remain transactional and interest-based, instead of ideologically motivated. Both Ankara and Brussels can focus on geopolitics and economics, entering into win-win agreements instead of pressing for normative-ideological rapprochement. While it is unlikely that the economic model of Turkey would undergo a radical reevaluation, some changes are inevitable given the bad shape of the economy.

With the realpolitik approach, Turkey might play a great role in negotiating some closure to the hostilities in Ukraine, as it is unlikely that such closure can be achieved on the battlefield. President Erdogan might even use this to slowly approach a sort of détente with the West.

But it doesn’t mean that the other issues currently burdening EU-Turkey relations (Syrian refugees, the NATO accession of Sweden, territorial dispute with Greece or the issue of Cyprus) would just disappear (neither would they do so, had the opposition won).

As long as those problems stay, there’s not much that would change as regards the bi- and multilateral relations.

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