After Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially announced his intention to run in the upcoming 2023 presidential elections in Turkey, the current White House administration gave a clear signal to its Western “allies” to intensify the campaign against the current Turkish leader and prepare measures to oust him. Although there is no talk of a coup d’état in Turkey yet, the ouster of Erdoğan as a result of the elections has become quite clear.
Not only the Americans, but also Western Europe, especially Germany, are now being blamed for stoking the internal political fire in Turkey. Not without explicit US involvement, as part of a provocative propaganda campaign against Erdoğan organized by the pro-Western opposition, there have recently been statements that the head of state is allegedly exporting millions of dollars to the US and preparing a plan to flee the country quickly. The ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) responded swiftly with a statement by party spokesman Ömer Çelik, accusing the opposition of blatant lies and seeking to inflame the situation.
The negative attitude of the current US president and the Democratic Party in general towards Erdoğan has its own history. Relations between the two countries began to deteriorate during the Biden vice presidency, when the US removed Patriot missile systems from Turkish territory and Erdoğan began looking to acquire such weapons elsewhere. In 2017, Ankara reached an agreement with Moscow and bought four S-400 air defense system divisions from Russia for around $2.5 billion, the largest Russian export contract with a NATO country and, at the same time, intensified criticism of Erdoğan in the US.
In 2016, as a US Vice President, Biden visited Istanbul, where during a press conference he sharply criticized Ankara and President Erdoğan for suppressing freedom of speech and failing to respect human rights. In December 2019, while still the Democratic candidate in the US presidential race, Joe Biden in an interview with The New York Times urged political opponents of the Turkish President to take more steps to win the election and in opposing Erdoğan. Biden called the Turkish leader an “autocrat,” criticized his policies towards the Kurds and advocated support for the Turkish opposition. “What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership,” Reuters then quoted Biden as saying of Erdoğan.
Now Turkey, thanks to Erdoğan, is stronger on the international stage than at any time in the last century. But things are not going well domestically. The economy has suffered quite badly during the Covid crisis, inflation is on the rise and social discontent is growing. This and a number of other internal problems in Turkey are now being exploited with a vengeance by the United States, which is not happy with “strong and independent” Erdoğan. Despite the US and the West needing Turkey amid the crisis in Ukraine, they have in fact already declared war on Erdoğan, so blatantly writing him off that it looks simply defiant. Western embassies, having received a clear message from Washington, have for some months now been paying openly increased attention to the Turkish opposition, and there is even a clear division as to which Western country supports which opposition party. For example, the US and British embassies are “friends” with the mayor of Istanbul. The US embassy is also friends with the leader of the Good Party. The German embassy is friends with the leader of the Republican People’s Party. The leader of the Democracy and Progress Party has in principle always been regarded as the voice of the West in Turkey, while former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (Future Party) has now become a direct US protégé. Western embassies, without any qualms about blatant interference in the domestic life of an independent state, which is also a very important element of NATO, directly discuss Turkey’s future policies with politicians already in opposition to Erdoğan, who are being tipped to take his place.
With explicit US support, the leaders of six opposition parties (Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (RPP), Meral Akşener of the nationalist Good Party, Temel Karamollaoğlu of the conservative Happiness Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu of the Future Party, Gültekin Uysal of the Democratic Party and Ali Babacan of the Democracy and Progress Party) met in February this year to “devise a strategy for governing the state in the event that the current President Erdoğan is ousted.” They continue to coordinate their actions today to remove Erdoğan from power. As even Turkish experts point out, the six opposition parties have secured support not only from the United States, but also from Germany. Turkey’s Minister of Interior and Erdoğan himself have accused the opposition, united in a common National Alliance, of colluding with Western embassies.
The opposition is particularly betting on splitting Erdoğan’s alliance with Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (NMP), with which the ruling presidential Justice and Development Party (JDP), which long ago lost its monopoly on political power, was forced into an alliance earlier. And largely thanks to this alliance, the opposition parties failed to remove Erdoğan and the JDP from power in the 2019 elections, and Bahçeli, while keeping Erdoğan in power, took part in the formation of the then new government.
The new opposition coalition, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party (RPP), which was openly established at the US Embassy, is strengthened with external support, in particular by the accession of the second most influential parliamentary opposition party, Mithat Sankar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Today, the PDP has 56 seats in the Turkish parliament and joining the new alliance, which already has 175 seats in the 600-seat parliament, could pose a serious threat to Erdoğan, especially against the background of the recent fall in his approval ratings amid the country’s socio-economic crisis.
The choice by the current US political elite of this particular party to strengthen Erdoğan’s coalition of opposition is not difficult to understand, since the PDP’s program matches all the political sentiments of Biden and the Democratic Party: LGBT rights, feminism, ultra-democracy, “militant environmentalism” and even support for the Kurds. The PDP has even shown a willingness to discuss a single opposition candidate for president. However, the party may not survive before the elections because the Turkish Constitutional Court is considering a case to ban it and hundreds of its politicians face five years of political sanctions on charges of organizational links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey.
The year 2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Therefore, the authorities, as well as external and internal opposition forces, intend to make the most of the event, each to its own advantage. The West has clearly bet on the opposition. As Turkish leader Erdoğan has already stated, the 2023 vote will be “of vital importance for Turkey and its future role in world politics.” It is possible that a new constitution will also be adopted by 2023.
At the same time, many political forces in the West realize that if Erdoğan loses the 2023 presidential election, it will entail a monumental shift in Turkish domestic and foreign policy. However, the current problem is the lack of charismatic political leaders in Turkey. All the leaders of the current opposition are not independent figures and are perceived only as participants in various alliances with Western external forces.
Therefore, despite the country’s financial and economic problems, which the US and its Western “allies” are trying to exploit in removing Erdoğan from future political activity, these attempts will not achieve a significant result. And above all because Erdoğan has long been, for the majority of the population, the epitome of a political course that is independent of the West. And the nationalist factor has famously played and continues to play an important role in Turkey today.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.