The debate, which has been on the agenda for a long time last week, is actually more comprehensive. The question is: Not only the Westerners – and they can not be said to be unanimous – any actor with an interest in this geography, who would want to hold the reins in Turkey? Now that the elections are less than a year away, this question makes even more sense. On the one hand, the possibility of foreigners to influence Turkey’s future can clearly be seen as a problem. It is true that we decide the fate of the country. However, this does not mean that others do not have expectations for an actor like Turkey, which is important in terms of global politics. Just as we made sharp choices between Trump and Biden while the US elections were being held, it is natural to have accounts abroad regarding our elections. These expectations do not directly affect the election results and do not create a problem as long as they include support from the stands. However, if it means a direct intervention towards the manifestation of the national will, it becomes an indisputable national security problem. The rumors that Putin interfered with the election results in the West with various methods pointed to this problem. These claims have never been proven concretely. Russia’s crisis with the Western world already shows that even if such an attempt existed, it did not work very well.
As a government (should I say a leader?) that has completed its twenty years in Turkey once again appears before the voters, we should have clarity in our minds regarding the preferences of foreigners. However, Erdogan’s way of government causes a constant change in the attitudes of other actors towards power in Turkey. Coming from a movement with a strong ideological base, the President was ‘caseWe have to accept this uncertainty as normal, as it focuses on ways to stay in power rather than the necessities of . If Erdogan had not shown this flexibility, it would not have been possible for him to stay on top of a very complex structure like Turkey for so long. This wealth of moves led to frequent changes in the bases not only inside but also outside. The President, who said goodbye to almost all the stakeholders who were with him when the Justice and Development Party was founded twenty years ago, continues on his way with completely different friends today. It is impossible to say what will happen tomorrow. Likewise, there is a constant change in the mainstays outside.
If we go back twenty years, Erdogan was a politician who struggled with political bans and even being the head of his own party was prevented by controversial judicial decisions. In this period, his visit to the USA before he became the Prime Minister and the policies he followed in the first years of his power showed a clear Western orientation. Likewise, not only the United States, but also the EU was eager to make an advance on the newly formed Justice and Development Party. In this period, when the window of the ruling party was more colorful and the one-man dominance was not consolidated, Turkey could not only hung on to the EU process with all her arms, but also consented to unorthodox initiatives such as supporting the Annan Plan. We may see the rejection of the March 1 motion as contradictory to this statement, but the party policy was towards the acceptance of the deployment of US soldiers in the country. A quorum could not be achieved as an inside group voted together with the opposition.
Even the serious damage to relations with Israel after the Gaza operations does not mean that Erdogan and his party have changed their minds. Because the government was uncomfortable with certain policies of the West and its allies in the region, but did not change direction immediately. Even in the first years of the Arab Spring, no incompatibility with US policies was observed, as Obama pointed out during his visit to Turkey, his claim to be a role model for the region and for Muslim communities was reinforced. When the Arab Spring backfired in Syria and Egypt, questions about foreign alliances began to appear in the government, especially in Erdogan. The photograph of Obama with a baseball bat, served while he was making a phone call, became the symbolic expression of the trouble that arose between the USA and Turkey. After the Kobane events and the verbal duel, the process that led Erdoğan to the Astana process started. In the same period, the chemistry of the power axis changed as well as the internal allies. It is clear that this break, which is widely interpreted as Turkey’s switch, is related to Erdogan’s needs and strategies at that time. Moreover, Syria policy, carried out hand in hand with Russia and Iran, seems to be the choice not only of the President but also of the security elite. No matter who it is designed by, at the end of the day, Turkey’s need for its Western allies is not over, and we cannot be overlooked despite some contrary views.
There is no alternative that will play the critical role of the USA and the EU not only in regional disputes, but also in the supply of weapons and access to the resources that the economy needs. Moreover, as the Ukrainian War revealed, the alternative roads are dead ends.
Then let’s go back to the arguments that the West will again prefer a Turkey under Erdogan. The ongoing deterioration in relations for nearly a decade does not support this thesis. The US administration’s refusal to engage in a comprehensive negotiation, and its continued support for the PYD in Syria and Greece in the Aegean, point to a policy of compression and show that they may prefer a different government in Turkey. It has been discussed for a long time that Biden, in a speech he gave before the Presidential elections, said that he wanted a change in power in Turkey through democratic means. On the other hand, Westerners, like us, see that Erdogan, whose 20 years we have been in power, can change when the need arises. Even if there is no change in power in the elections, it is expected that there will be a common working ground in some way, since both the USA and the EU will continue to need Ankara. They can continue a journey that has been going on for twenty years, albeit with concussions, for a while.
However, the first choice of both the USA and the EU may be among the opposition candidates. Since the opposing front has not yet been able to identify the candidate and the blood has taken the body about the candidate that will face Erdoğan, the outside continues to wait at this point. It is possible that the opposition candidates are already making some commitments, especially with the support of the United States, to restore relations with the West. Of course, it is out of the question for them to do this by completely ignoring Turkey’s sensitivities on issues such as Syria and the Aegean. But candidates have to manage their support outside as well as inside.
Let’s come to the Russian front, with which we have recently developed the most complicated relations. Ankara-Moscow relations seem to oscillate in a kind of love-hate pendulum under Erdogan. The Ukrainian war has made the situation at these extremes even more evident. Turkey’s open support to Ukraine in certain areas and its stance within the NATO alliance, on the other hand, continue its close relations with Russia. These pragmatic policies can translate into billions of dollars suddenly appearing in Central Bank reserves. Finally, the rumors that natural gas will be sold to Turkey on credit, enough to survive this winter -if true- may give time to the country, which is going into financial bankruptcy, and allow the government to hold out until the elections. We’ll see if Russia opens that door.
In short, although the West and Russia both have preferences for the Turkish elections, it must be admitted that they have scenarios for every election outcome. Whoever is elected in a country whose economic fragility has increased so much will not be able to go beyond a certain framework. In my opinion, the first preference of the USA and the EU is among the opposition candidates. We will see if Putin will give blue beads to Erdogan if there is a natural gas deal.