Will the elections change Turkish foreign policy?
As there are five days left until early elections in Turkey, and it remains a matter of curiosity whether they will lead to a shift in the country’s foreign policy.
The answer is yes, changes are likely in Turkey’s foreign policy. But the dose of the change will be determined by the election results. That is not only valid if President Tayyip Erdoğan is not re-elected; Muharrem İnce, the candidate for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), seems to be his closest rival, and if he wins foreign policy is likely to change sharply. He promises better relations with the U.S. and the European Union, as well as a settlement with Syria as a way to ease the Syrian refugee problem.
But even if it takes two rounds, with a potential second round on July 8, Erdoğan’s chances look bigger. If he wins there are two main potential scenarios: The first is that the alliance led by his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) wins a majority in parliament. The second is that the combined opposition parties win a majority. That second scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility, especially if the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) manages to pass the 10 percent national threshold and gets into parliament, which would cost Erdoğan’s alliance around 60 seats in the 600-seat parliament.
Not having the legislative support of parliament will have an effect on the foreign policy Erdoğan follows, at least through parliamentary commissions and the budget, despite the fact that the cabinet to be formed by the president will not need a vote of confidence according to the new constitution. But even if Erdoğan wins both the presidency and a majority in parliament, Turkey’s foreign policy line is expected to undergo certain fine-tuning or perhaps even more.
Ankara announced yesterday, June 18, that Turkish and U.S. troops have started to patrol together near the Syria town of Manbij as a part of their agreement to remove the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia out of the town. The YPG is the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, despite the U.S.’s collaboration with it against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In addition, the first two F-35 new generation jet fighters are scheduled to be handed over to Turkish pilots for the start of their training on June 21, three days before the election in Houston, Texas, despite objections in the Congress that Turkey should be removed from the joint production program.
These two developments suggest a decrease in tension in relations between the two NATO allies, as cooperation is also on the rise in the Afghanistan crisis and before a crucial NATO summit in July in which Turkey is expected to assume new responsibilities in the Western military alliance.
If relations with the U.S. do get better - which also include cooperation against the PKK in Iraq, which could at least see Washington turning a blind eye to potential Turkish military operations - it could have a positive impact on moderating Ankara’s Syria policy, given its current level of cooperation with Russia there.
Regarding the EU, relations are already stagnant and cannot really get much worse considering that neither Turkey nor the EU want to be the side to cut them. But if antagonism with the EU is less of a factor to be used in domestic politics by both the Turkish government and by major EU governments (as there will be no election left in sight), there could be slight improvements on the technical level, likely to be highlighted as major enhancements by all sides.
In sum, it can be suggested that in all potential scenarios a more hardline Turkish foreign policy does not seem very likely after the elections.