Election mood has started early in Turkey

Election mood has started early in Turkey

Turkey’s news agenda looks quite different from the outside than it does from within. International problems such as strife with the U.S. or Europe often boil down to a single parameter inside the country: Will it benefit President Tayyip Erdoğan or will it weaken his position, as the opposition would like to see.

This is valid for a wide spectrum of issues, from the rift over Syria policy to the state of press freedom. The “all politics is local” motto from American politics also applies here.

Perhaps that is why Erdoğan, who is not known for his easygoing nature, was unusually mild yesterday on Nov. 28 when referring his telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 24. Despite the discrepancy between statements from the White House and the Pentagon regarding military assistance to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) - which the U.S. has been partnering with against the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - Erdoğan was in a wait-and-see mode.

“We will have another call next week with Trump. If he doesn’t call me, I will call him,” he said.

Erdoğan probably views Trump’s domestic problems in terms of the supposed “U.S. deep state” and so (for once) does not want to escalate tension. After all, Trump is perhaps the only official in Washington currently willing to listen to and talk to him.

The Turkish president certainly needs some “foreign successes” for domestic purposes. This is especially true after it was confirmed that Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab would be pleading guilty to charges of breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran, leaving former state Halkbank general manager Hakan Atilla as the only arrested defendant in the case. This may be why Erdoğan does not want to damage his ties with Trump by overreacting to the Pentagon.

However, political attention within Turkey yesterday was on something else. Last week, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had claimed that Erdoğan, his aides, and his relatives had transferred U.S. dollars to overseas accounts at a time when Erdoğan was imploring Turkish citizens to exchange their foreign currency into Turkish Liras in order to halt its depreciation.

In response, Erdoğan opened a case suing Kılıçdaroğlu, challenging him to prove claims that he or his relatives sent currency abroad.

Yesterday, Kılıçdaroğlu revealed the dates of a number of transactions – not of Erdoğan himself but of some of his relatives including his brother Mustafa and his son Burak, one of his in-laws, and his former secretary. They had made multi-million dollar transactions to a 1-pound company in the Isle of Man owned by a friend, Sıtkı Ayan, whose name previously appeared in the Wikileaks revelations. Erdoğan’s lawyers immediately denied the documents, describing them as “fake.”

This debate is unlikely to end up anywhere, such as the resignation of either Erdoğan or Kılıçdaroğlu. But it does show that the parties have already entered an “election mood” for the 2019 local, presidential and parliamentary elections.

And when we speak of the opposition we now mean mostly the CHP. The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has a number of MPs, including its co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, in jail. The divided Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), led by Devlet Bahçeli, has already announced that it will support Erdoğan in the elections. And the new İYİ (Good) Parti, led by Meral Akşener, is still only in its start-up phase.

Turkey, Politics, Opinion, Murat Yetkin