Turkey looks into a dark mirror


Picture of Robert Cox
Robert Cox

Senior Advisor to the European Community Humanitarian Office (1993-1998) and former European Commission Representative to Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bid to boost his power in a re-run of the country’s election on November 1 appears to have paid off – but only partly. The truth is that Erdoğan’s grip on power and that of his AK party has peaked, leaving Turkish politics with a painful task of re-adaptation in the months ahead.

Erdoğan’s AK party, with about over 49% of the vote, will have a narrow majority in the Turkish parliament. Superficially this sends a message of stability that opinion polls did not predict. But the AKP will not have the two-thirds majority required (without a referendum) to force extended presidential powers through parliament. Erdoğan will not abandon that aim but since no coalition is likely to back such a reinforcement of the role of the president, the issue will further injure Turkish politics in the months ahead

Meanwhile three immediate issues will not go away: the economy; the Kurds; the Middle East conflict.

The stalemate after the June 6 election has frightened already nervous investors, the quintessentially fragile balance of payments has worsened, inflation has surged, unemployment has grown and the Lira has lost over 30% of its value against the dollar since the beginning of the year. Nerves among the business community will not be greatly steadied by the election result.

In ditching his indirect negotiations with Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, Erdoğan opened up a major and unnecessary Pandora’s box. The uneasy half-peace that persisted in Turkey’s Kurdish heartland has now become out-and-out war with no-go areas. Erdoğan cannot simply out a call through to Öcalan and set the clock back to June.

Other Kurdish issues meanwhile have snowballed. Kurds in the north of war-torn Syria, close to the Turkish PKK guerrillas, have carved out for themselves a growing power base; Kurds in northern Iraq have increasingly disenfranchised themselves from the government in Baghdad. Kurdistan, in the widest sense, has become a bigger phenomenon requiring constructive policies and which Ankara is now less able to handle than ever before.

As regards the Middle East, in the last five months the situation has raced ahead leaving Turkey behind and marginalised. Turkey’s normal ally, the United States, has lost clout in the Middle East imbroglio given its own policy wobbling and intensified Russian intervention. Turkey thus risks being an ineffectual negotiating partner during ongoing talks in Vienna on seeking a Syrian solution. Common sense says that Turkey and Iran – by far the most substantial powers in the region – should seek to make common cause. They won’t.

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