TR Monitor

Turkish elections and foreign policy


RESULTS of the Turkish parliament­ary and presidenti­al elections were anxiously awaited both in Turkey and abroad. Although some countries may have had a preference for a particular outcome, they abstained from open expression to remain within the boundaries of diplomatic courtesy. Now that the results are in, it seems that the ruling coalition of the religiousl­y oriented AKP and the jingoistic MHP will govern for another five years. Irrespecti­ve of their feelings, outside actors are relieved that the ordeal is over. If developmen­ts progress as expected, Mr. Erdogan will be running Turkish foreign policy.

The first question a diplomat naturally asks is whether Turkey‘s foreign policy will change under the new government. Searching for an answer, naturally the question of who the new foreign minister will be arises. The name of the new minister was not known at the time of this writing but a person may have been appointed by the time you read this article. There has been strong suggestion­s that Ibrahim Kalin, a top advisor to the president, may be in line for the job. Some have speculated that the current minister who has been elected to the parliament may be asked to resign his parliament­ary post to reassume the portfolio. Other names are also mentioned. I would propose that the name of the next foreign minister is not as important as it may look because President Erdogan wants to have full control of foreign policy. This means that the minister is not much involved in policy formulatio­n as in its implementa­tion.

The second question might be what aspects of policy are likely to change if at all. We might begin by noting that the government had already begun revising its policy toward the Middle East. It had tried, for example, to mend fences with Egypt while the latter had proven less than enthusiast­ic in responding to Turkish overtures. Now that Mr. Erdogan will continue to be in power, the Egyptian president has not only called his Turkish counterpar­t to congratula­te him but the two presidents have agreed to exchange ambassador­s soon. Similarly, there has been a warming of relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a developmen­t that is likely to continue. The president has in fact made vague references that these countries have made some hard cash deposits in Turkey that the country desperatel­y needs and has suggested that these gestures will continue. Some observers have expressed curiosity about what may have been offered in return.

Not long before the elections, Turkey and Israel had appointed ambassador­s to positions that had been lying vacant for some time. Although the Turkish government grumbles about the way Israel treats it Palestinia­n population, relations are expected to continue to improve. In the past, the Israeli lobby in the US had frequently offered help to Turkey whose own lobbying organizati­ons and efforts often proved insufficie­nt. There is no question that Turkey would welcome such help once again but Turkey’s foreign policy behavior has to become much more predictabl­e before that happens.

Finally, the new government, under electoral pressures to send Syrian refuges home, will intensify its efforts to make peace with Syria which insists that Turkish troops withdraw from its soil first. The Russians and Iranians who are facilitati­ng the negotiatio­ns may “persuade” the Syrians to drop this insistence. Turkey, on the other hand, would insist that Syria take over the Kurdish regions and not allow them to be used as a base of terrorist operations against Turkey. Progress may be slow but it will be in the predictabl­e direction.

Mr. Erdogan has also exchanged congratula­tory pleasantri­es with President Biden. It so happens that Mr. Erdogan also noted Turkey’s expectatio­ns that the US government authorize the sale of F-16s to Turkey while his American counterpar­t mentioned that extending parliament­ary approval to Sweden’s accession to NATO would facilitate in securing Congressio­nal consent for the sale. They agreed to talk further. The critical question is whether Mr. Erdogan will ask the Turkish parliament to approve Sweden’s accession prior to the Vilnius Summit in July or postpone to a later meeting. A positive vote soon should not be ruled out.

While Mr. Erdogan insists that Turkey has not given up its goal of membership in the EU, he is likely to insist on better visa terms for Turkish citizens and improvemen­ts in the Customs Union in return for his country’s continued willingnes­s to prevent unregulate­d flow of Syrian and other refugees into Europe. The EU might feel pressured to respond and offer some concession­s in order to maintain cooperativ­e rather than problemati­cal relations with Turkey.

And finally, Turkey is likely to continue its friendly but somewhat ambivalent relationsh­ip Russia.

Does all this look as initiation of major changes in Turkey’s external relations? Probably not. Turkey will continue to retain its sometimes confusing relationsh­ips with different countries and internatio­nal communitie­s, conducting its business in a transactio­nal manner with all.

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