27.05.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Elections in Turkey: tactics shift as time is running out…

Elections in Turkey: tactics shift as time is running out...

The 49.51% vs 44.88% distribution after the first stage of the presidential election maintains Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s apparent prospects of triumph over his rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Perhaps the incumbent president of Turkey could have snatched the victory on May 14, too, for the authorities could have counted 0.49% of the votes differently (for instance, in terms of invalid ballots). But Erdoğan, an experienced politician, decided not to test the reaction of his internal and external opponents, to show himself as a supporter of “mature democracy” (so widely paraded by the Collective West) and to stretch out the time of political intrigue by two more weeks. And in principle, what is the rush for Turkey’s “irreplaceable leader” who has been in power for 20 years?

It is often the case in politics that a long period of history can boast no significant events that can turn the tide or make decisive (or fatal) changes. Conversely, short-lived events are recognized by history as having a significant impact on its future path. The current presidential election in Turkey is somewhat reminiscent of this analogy.

Erdoğan has changed Turkey’s role and position in regional and global affairs during his years in power, and he has proven to be a better player at the table of political heavyweights because his bets have been justified by time. Yes, Turkey is now experiencing a serious economic crisis, but what other country is safe from these crises or has avoided them in its development?

Erdoğan, assessing the international situation in his own way, believes that the time has come for Turkey to enter a qualitatively new level, from a regional state to a super-regional power. At the same time, the pragmatic Erdoğan is well aware that his chances in the political and military field must be supported by a relative yet stable economic independence.

The latter, given the scarcity of national natural resources (especially limited energy resources), is not an easy task. But it is the favorable external situation that has emerged for Turkey after the collapse of the USSR that provides it with a chance to flexibly maneuver between different centers of power (the US, Russia and China) and build a new paradigm of Turkic integration processes led by Ankara.

How is Turkic integration within the Organization of Turkic States, based on common values and interests (ethnocultural affinity, new energy region, high demography, partnership with all the mentioned world centers) worse than the European integration within the EU, Eurasian integration within the EAEU and Chinese economic integration within the One Belt, One Road mega-project? For the Turkic world, the answer is obvious.

But it is to implement such a strategy of Turan that Erdoğan is building a new economic model of pragmatic partnership with all the world centers and markets (whether Europe, Russia or China). The result of this course is the obvious economic dividends and projects, new communications and transit, the increasing role of Turkey in the global political and business environment, the formation of the foundations of an alternative Turkic pole with Ankara as its leader. And while such conclusions in the recent past seemed to be in the realm of science fiction, today we have to acknowledge other realities.

That is why Turkish presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, before the second round of elections, rightly tells his own and others’ societies that the country’s president should be neither offended nor angry, but should be guided only by national interests. That is why Erdoğan says he has pursued a policy of open arms with the United States, Europe, Russia and China as well.

As a result, Turkey is no longer in perpetual expectation of the next financial and other material (including military) handouts from the main ally of the United States and NATO in order to solve urgent national issues. Moreover, Turkey is no longer entertaining illusions of integration with the EU and is not waiting for new decisions by Washington and Brussels on this issue. Instead, Turkey today is a country which through its partnerships with other world players (primarily Russia and China) has achieved a higher level of economic and political independence, finds ways to compensate Western weapons with comparable Russian munitions, and slowly and steadily forms an alternative Turkic common market with its own leadership.

Accordingly, in case of his victory Erdoğan will continue to maintain this pragmatic course (including with regard to Russia). Therefore, the leader of the ruling party devotes the remaining days of the election campaign to Turkey’s current serious political events in the domestic and foreign life (including visits to the earthquake zone, discussion of acute social issues of citizens, achieving new results in the mediation between Russia and Ukraine on the extension of the “grain deal”).

Naturally, the negotiations in Istanbul on the complex subject of preserving the “grain deal” could have had a different result, since Russia objectively has the right to interrupt this one-way game. If Russia’s interests in the export of its agricultural products (including fertilizers) to the world markets, the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Agricultural Bank with its connection to SWIFT, the import of foreign agricultural equipment and spare parts to the Russian market are not taken into account by the guarantor of the deal, represented by the UN and the authors of sanctions in the form of the Collective West, then why should Russia preserve the “grain deal” with Ukraine? However, Moscow, demonstrating to the rest of the world its goodwill and peacefulness, nevertheless, agreed once again to give all mediators (including Turkey) a chance to resolve this issue comprehensively and respect the interests of all parties.

It can be rightfully asserted that Russia, maintaining the high trust in the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, agreed for a two-month prolongation of the “grain deal” thanks to the authority of the Turkish leader and in the counting that this advance will be adequately developed on July 18, 2023. Before the second round of the election, Erdoğan once again showed his voters the high level of relations with Russia and his diplomatic success.

And what about Erdoğan’s main opponent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Alliance bloc? The opposition’s expectations of success in the first round did not come to fruition. Given that the time is running out rapidly there is no opportunity to hold large marches and rallies, exercise oratorical skills and raise the degree of conviction of the hesitant masses. Kılıçdaroğlu also decided to keep up with Erdoğan in his visits to the areas covered by the earthquake tragedy and those provinces where the potential of supporters remains.

Kılıçdaroğlu, however, decided to give his campaign a fiery appearance in the final stage of the elections. While at the beginning of the election he was quite correct in his assessments of the prospects for a mutually beneficial partnership between Turkey and Russia, as the elections drew closer more and more critical remarks against Russia and now President Erdoğan for allegedly subjugating Russia began to appear in his speeches.

In particular, in early May Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu decided to accuse Russia of allegedly interfering in the Turkish elections by means of… photoshop depicting him with the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey. Though the real reason was obviously a strong positive evidence of economic and diplomatic partnership between Turkey and Russia that is connected with the name and policy of Erdoğan. The second factor of such public dissatisfaction with Kılıçdaroğlu can be considered the attitudes of pro- or American political technologists.

Before the second round of the election the opposition candidate decided to directly accuse the incumbent president of being subordinate to Russia (calling Erdoğan a “pseudo-leader subordinate to Russia”). It turns out that when there are no arguments left, the best remedy is to accuse your opponent of all imaginable and unimaginable sins.

Of course, you can say that a competent Turkish voter can separate the wheat from the chaff. That may be true. But what about the incompetent voters, and there are a lot of them in Turkey today, too? The latter means that the pro-American part of the Turkish political electorate, engaged in connections with big Western capital and maintaining Turkey’s own position of power, will take all possible provocations to rig the presidential election. In particular, Kılıçdaroğlu’s pre-election rhetoric already shows false attitudes and hostile anti-Russian propaganda, no guarantees and disruption of the results of the vote count, as well as provoking civil clashes after the election.

Kılıçdaroğlu and his Western sponsors will obviously try to reach an agreement before May 28 not only with the Kurdish political forces in terms of supporting the opposition leader (such cooperation has already taken place after the May 14 vote) but also with the nationalist Sinan Oğan, the third participant in the first round of election, who got 5.17% of votes. This figure is exactly what the leader of the CHP lacks in his clash with Erdoğan. Some biased circles are already leaking that such an unexpected U-turn of pan-Turkist and Azerbaijani (as noted in the press) Sinan Oğan in favor of the United States and Kılıçdaroğlu should not be ruled out. Apparently, there is a bidding for the next – the eighth – Turkish vice-presidential seat. Still, if Kılıçdaroğlu in his program promised the citizens to govern for one year in case of victory, return the former parliamentary model of governing the country and lower the status of the president, then what is the point of having at least 10 vice-presidents?

It is extremely difficult for the author to imagine that Sinan Oğan, a politician from the ranks of the main pan-Turkist organization Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and an associate of Devlet Bahçeli (who is allied with Erdoğan and the ruling AKP in the “Republican Alliance”), and an Azeri by birth (whose historical homeland President Erdoğan helped win the second Karabakh war), would agree to alliance with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. But calculating (often cynical) pragmatism and force rather than emotion prevail in politics. The near future will show how this will play out. Sinan Oğan has no institutional capacity to compel his supporters to vote for another candidate, and there is neither money nor time to buy their votes.

Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, and Aydın are the major and resort cities where Kılıçdaroğlu was successful in the first round. Erdoğan, on the other hand, won in 51 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, mostly in nationalist and Islamist-ridden parts of the country. As a rule, the fate of revolutions and coups d’état is decided in the capital and major cities, while the periphery follows the center. Let’s hope that the second round of presidential elections in Turkey will also follow the established laws, and its results will reflect the objective balance of power and the choice of the people.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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