A tough year ahead for Turkey

A tough year ahead for Turkey

President Tayyip Erdoğan said on the last day of 2017 that Turkey would “continue to take risks” in its foreign policy, especially in regional issues, in 2018. Indeed, 2018 may well be a difficult year for the country, considering prospects in the areas of diplomacy, democracy and the economy.

Let’s briefly summarize Turkey’s 2018 outlook. 

• DOMESTIC POLITICS: The continuation of the state of emergency, first declared shortly after the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt, is likely to remain a major point of contention in Turkey. Civil society groups have joined opposition parties in calling for “normalization,” pushing for jailed journalists, writers and politicians to be freed. Emergency rule has, however, become important for Erdoğan not only for security reasons but particularly for bypassing parliament and the judiciary in executive decisions, which he frames as “speeding up the political process to serve the people better.” 

On the electoral front, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu may announce his candidacy for presidential elections in 2019, while İYİ (Good) Party head Meral Akşener recently said she could support the CHP in the presidential race if Erdoğan is not elected in the first round and the CHP candidate enters the second round. The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), meanwhile, will have a tough task staying above the 10 percent national threshold for parliamentary elections in 2019 as its co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş is still in jail along with eight more MPs and some 80 mayors. National Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli, on the other hand, is likely to continue bargaining with Erdoğan for a drop in the threshold in return for his crucial support for the president in almost all key matters. 

One surprise in politics came in the last week of 2017, when former President Abdullah Gül voiced his objection to a controversial recent state of emergency decree law. In the aftermath Erdoğan made harsh remarks expressing his displeasure with Gül’s intervention. Gül might well keep putting his weight in politics in 2018, which could create a struggle for Erdoğan in his push for the 50-percent-plus-one vote he needs to get re-elected.

• FOREIGN POLICY: Depending on an improvement in the democratic atmosphere in Turkey – perhaps lifting or at least easing the state of emergency – Ankara’s relations with Europe in general and the EU specifically may improve. Ties with Germany, with the possible new government of Angela Merkel, will be key, in addition to ties with France and Italy. 

However, it is not easy to see any light at the end of the tunnel in relations with the U.S., Ankara’s major partner in the Western defense alliance NATO. The Jerusalem issue recently led to another rift in already problematic relations between Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump. The continuing activities of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt, and U.S. collaboration with the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), are two of the biggest headaches for Ankara at present. Increasing diplomatic traffic between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as increasing economic activity between the two countries (now including arms purchases with the S-400 missiles), is being closely watched by the U.S. 

In the Middle East, meanwhile, Turkey is likely to continue taking the “Jerusalem spirit” to the U.N., which has also helped slow down rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a new base for future moves. It should also be noted that the open U.S. support for recent public protests in Iran has alerted many capitals in the region, with long memories of the CIA-sponsored coup in Iran back in 1953.

• ECONOMY:  The record-breaking growth figure of 11.1 percent for the third quarter of 2017 will not be easy to repeat. But Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) has started to shift into an election economy in preparation for the 2019 elections, for example by hiring thousands more civil servants and promoting more social welfare support for the poor. The election economy is not only aiming for the presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2019 but also the local elections in March 2019. 

Despite the promising potential in the economy, political factors (like Ankara’s diplomatic and democratic outlook) are negatively affecting Turkey’s export potential, contributing to the widening current account deficit, rising inflation and rising foreign debt of private companies. Because of this, an improvement in the democratic atmosphere and an improvement in relations with the West, especially EU member countries, would improve not only Turkey’s production and exports outlook but also help the tourism sector, which has struggled in recent years but is one of the vital areas of the country’s economy. 

CORRECTION: In the Dec. 29, 2017 column “Turkey buys Russian missiles thanks to the US,” the acronym “MIT” for Massachusetts Institute of Technology was cited as Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, which has the same acronym in Turkish, due to an editorial mistake. It was corrected online thanks to our careful readers and now on your page. We regret the error.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion