Turkey’s democracy works, and whoever wants to win needs to deliver on the economy
1 A break for Turkish politics
Turkish politics will be on a much-appreciated break this week, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his way to Osaka for the G20 summit. The Istanbul rerun is over. After Japan, Erdogan will be hosted by President Xi Jinping in Beijing, and all together, he will be away from Ankara for about 10 days. Turkey’s parliament is also in summer recess. So this is a time when Turkey’s political class can get some distance from their routines, and maybe even begin to think ahead a little bit.
2 Governing block looses support
The Istanbul rerun has changed Turkey’s political calculus. The opposition’s umbrella candidate put a nine-point lead between him and Erdgan’s candidate. Here’s one thing you might want to do: When looking at the national map from the election last March, substitute this election result with Istanbul s head-to-head result then. The share of the governing bloc declines from 49.3 to 48.1 percent. This means that the governing block now only has the support of a minority of the population.
3 Elections in Turkey are still free
First, the ballot box is the only place Turks feel completely free. It still works wonders in Turkey. Elections may not be fair, but they are still free. Every political faction, no matter how powerful, needs to respect that.
4 Coalitions are back
Second, coalitions are back. Since the constitutional reform of 2018, the new rule of Turkish politics is 50 percent plus one vote. This means that large parties can assemble a coalition of smaller parties ahead of elections and beat a much larger rival. Both Istanbul elections have shown us that this is possible. It is no longer a fantasy to think that the right coalition could contest Erdogan in the 2023 presidential race, and win. It will not be a surprise to see new political parties and alliances in the four years ahead.
5 The temptation to simply squash the losing half of the country is too big
Lesson three is on polarization. At first glance, the split into smaller parties forming coalitions (the 50+1 system) is not bad for individual voters. Elections are the only way for Turkey’s citizens to have direct contact with their politicians. The more competitive the elections, the more the needs of individual voters can be taken into account. Yet this is not good for the country as a whole. In a society divided down the middle, a strong structural reform agenda cannot become operational. The temptation to simply squash the losing half of the country is too big. You need checks and balances.
6 Kurdish votes are important in winning the majority
Lesson four is don’t upset the Kurds. The Kurdish vote is important in winning the majority. According to TEPAV surveys, that’s more than 15 percent of the population. If you add up those who say “I have a Kurdish grandfather,” self-proclaimed Kurds reach 18 percent, and their share of the population is rising rapidly. This brings in so many possibilities in domestic, regional and international politics, mostly for the better.
7 There is enough time to set the economy straight
Turkey is about to enter a four-year period of no elections. That is more than enough time to set the economy straight. The September 2018 New Economy Program’s forecast of 2.3 percent growth for 2019 is no longer realistic. The government should start the new program by adjusting its outlook.
8 Bilateral meetings ahead, no time for contemplation
Lastly, Turkey’s opposition leaders may take some time to think about these things, but unfortunately for the president, the G20 is no time of blissful contemplation. The G20 is important for Turkey, if for nothing else but a series of bilateral meetings. Far too much rests on the meetings with President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin, I’m afraid.
9 There is a serious public diplomacy deficit in Turkey
Turkey still does not have a strong positive story it has been thinking on by taking regional and global developments into consideration in order to determine its own strategies and express itself and reveal its position in its own geography and in the world. That is what I mean by saying “Turkey has a serious public diplomacy deficit.” Public diplomacy or any policy from education to the economy, from health to foreign policy is not about singular reactions to individual events. If public diplomacy and foreign policy are carried out in this way, no matter how well-intentioned you are, you will be taken as a country covering up every incident, making an excuse for every negative development. Harmony and integrity are essential. Without a strategy, there is no policy.
10 Turkey has to be more prepared for the new industrial revolution
We lost an empire at the beginning of the 20th century because we could not fully comprehend the process of technological change that began in the 19th century and could not position ourselves correctly in the changing world. Then, by establishing a nation-state appropriate to the characteristics of the period, we built a strong economic infrastructure and a new business plan. The 21st century is now witnessing a new technological revolution at a depth similar to that of the 19th century, and it will continue to accelerate. This time, we have to be more alert and prepared to position ourselves in the new world order.