How will local election results affect Turkey’s foreign policy?
Under normal circumstances, we (or Turkey watchers) would not have asked this question. But for some time we haven’t been living under normal circumstances and that is due partly to the fact that Turkey is in a transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
The fact that this question is asked even after local elections is also due to the conviction both inside and outside that foreign policy has become intertwined with domestic politics. This conviction has been strengthened by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s preference to lead his campaign on the theme of “vote to secure Turkey’s survival against existential threats from both inside and outside.”
All the polls ahead of elections showed that nearly seven out of 10 people ranked economic difficulties as Turkey’s most important problem. In general, only 4 to 5 percent of those polled saw security as the most important problem.
Despite this data, and often underlining the fact that voters should not trust the polls, Erdoğan’s rhetoric on his campaign trail entailed tough messages against Turkey’s “foreign foes.”
It is obviously up to Erdoğan to decide after the elections whether this campaign strategy brought the desired outcome. As an unintended consequence, however, it brought with it an expectation to see whether Turkey might soften its foreign policy rhetoric, and even adopt some changes in its stance on certain issues.
In the short term, it is difficult to expect change. This is also due to the fact that the ruling party has in a way become dependent on its smaller ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose stance on issues like northern Syria will remain hawkish. In addition, state institutions as well feel the need to be vigilant against terror organizations, the PKK’s wings in Syria.
What we will need to watch in the short to medium term will be how Turkey’s bilateral relations with both Washington and Moscow, as well as these three actors’ stances in the Middle East, will shape and influence each other.
Can Turkey live being excluded from the F-35 fighter jets project just to purchase S400 anti-ballistic air defense system? Would Russia prefer to have Turkey continue to have a say in NATO or will it suit more to its interests to see it isolated within the North Atlantic alliance? Will it put a proposal to the table to cancel the S400s so as to make Turkey evermore dependent on itself?
The steps Turkey will take on its foreign policy will also depend on how it will fare with the potential economic turmoil that can arise in the coming days. After all, the election results do not exactly prove that the currency shock experienced last August, defined by the ruling elites as a hostile attack from outside powers, was also perceived as such by traditional Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters.
After all, sometimes bread and butter can be more vital than S400s and F-35s worth millions of dollars.