Will Erdoğan be able to campaign in Europe before June polls?
Regardless who wins the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, a new era will be opened for Turkey and Turkish politics. June 25 will mark the beginning of full implementation of the substantial constitutional amendments narrowly approved in last year’s referendum, shifting the administrative system from a parliamentary to an executive presidential system.
The elected president will form his cabinet and appoint vice-presidents, while also being able to rule the country through decrees in a model that would not need much parliamentary scrutiny. That is why ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials underline that June 25 will mark the launch of a new era in Turkey, believing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency in the first round of elections. The opposition bloc, despite still being without a proper candidate and strategy, also expresses its strong belief that its candidate will triumph.
The common point between the two sides is that both believe that every vote will count in these elections and they have to pursue a hectic campaign. That, of course, includes appealing to the nearly three million eligible voters overseas.
The schedule is very tight and we have no information about whether the ruling party or others plan to organize rallies or meetings in European countries.
More than 1.4 million Turks living abroad voted in April 2017 referendum. Some 59.1 percent of them voted in favor of constitutional amendments, around 8 points higher than domestic voters. The government is now working on a new regulation to ease the conditions for Turks living abroad to vote, in a bid to increase turnout as figures show that a solid majority still support Erdoğan and the ruling AKP. As the next president will need to win at least 50 percent plus one vote, special attention on overseas votes certainly needs to be paid by all candidates.
The question is whether the ruling party and presidential candidate are planning campaigns in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, France and Denmark, where sizeable Turkish communities live. Given the very tight schedule, the AKP and opposition parties may not envisage multiple events in these countries but a few rallies could be planned. The problem, however, is that memories of incidents that occurred during the AKP’s campaigning in many of these countries before the April 16, 2017 referendum are still fresh.
Ties between Turkey and the Netherlands are still bad, with the latter refusing to formally apologize to the Ankara government over the use of force against people gathered to meet a visiting Turkish minister and for the undiplomatic reception given to the Turkish minister.
Germany is unlikely to respond to Erdoğan’s calls for a presidential visit to Berlin before the June 24 polls, while French President Emmanuel Macron is also unlikely to be very welcoming to his Turkish counterpart under these circumstances. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has already been quick to announce that his government will bar Turkish politicians from campaigning on Austrian territory before the June 24 polls.
In sum, last year’s tension between Ankara and these countries, as well as ongoing concerns over the steady downgrading of Turkish democracy, will prevent Turkish politicians from being able to reach out to voters in European countries.