What Washington doesn’t expect from Turkey’s snap elections
It is difficult to say that the process leading up to Turkey’s snap elections on June 24 have received tremendous attention in the U.S. capital. The lack of greater enthusiasm in Washington for the Turkish election process has to do with the perception of most policymakers that the election will not drastically change the political status quo in Ankara.
Both the administration and Turkey watchers in the think-tank community believe that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win his long-term goal - the executive presidency- in the second round if not in the first round. Scenarios for Erdoğan’s first round win are generally discussed, together with whether the elections will be conducted in a fair fashion. The Washington community does not exclude the possibility of certain amount of rigging in the election, which they regard as a matter of life or death for the country’s current leader.
Although many in U.S. policy circles believe the opposition bloc has a chance to get a majority in the Turkish Parliament, which has been dominated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the last 16 years, they are not convinced that this would mean much in a system where the president can rule by decree, stretching his extensive powers. For many in Washington, the course of bilateral relations will more or less stay the same as long as Erdoğan is in the picture as the country’s strongman.
The continuation of the existing troubled state of play in Turkey-U.S. relations means that the concerns of Washington for an intensifying relationship between Erdoğan and Putin - as well as deeper military alignment between Ankara and Moscow - would linger. The deployment of Russian S-400s on Turkish soil will therefore continue be at the heart of the drama.
Meanwhile, the chorus in favor of burning bridges with Turkey will probably continue to poison the debate, amid dangerous propositions like “closing down the İncirlik base and moving it elsewhere in the region.”
For the U.S. administration, what might truly challenge the political status quo in Turkey is the economic decline in the country rather than the upcoming snap elections. It seems Washington has been eyeing the state of the Turkish Lira, as well as the inflation and unemployment numbers, more attentively than the campaigns of presidential candidates.
A recent survey conducted by the Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) in cooperation with the Metropoll research company in Turkey revealed trends that somewhat support the general mood in Washington over both the June 24 elections and the economy.
According to the CAP survey, President Erdoğan is supported by 45 percent of the voters and therefore cannot claim victory in the first round. In a potential runoff with Muharrem İnce, the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdoğan leads by a 48 percent to 36 percent margin, with about 7 percent undecided. In the parliamentary vote, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) just passes the 10 percent electoral threshold while the AKP’s electoral alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is in danger of falling short of parliamentary majority with 46.2 percent.
The survey also found that 62 percent of Turks think the Turkish government is managing the current currency and inflation situation either “very poorly” or “somewhat poorly.” Some 65 percent said “creating jobs” should be the most important priority for the government. Both figures may well be regarded as indicators of discontent among AKP voters over how the government is handling economic policies.
For Turkey’s counterparts in Washington, perhaps the most striking part of the CAP survey are the answers given by Turkish participants to questions regarding their preferences when it comes to choosing alliances in the world. By a 40 percent to 3 percent margin, Turks say they trust Russia more than they trust the U.S. This number clearly demonstrates that the lack of trust toward the United States among people in Turkey has literally hit rock bottom. However, 55 percent of Turks still want Turkey to remain in NATO.
All these figures in CAP’s survey, in fact, state the obvious for the future of the relations between Ankara and Washington: It is almost impossible for the two so-called allies to mend ties outside of the NATO context.
What this gloomy picture also confirms is that even in a scenario in which the results on June 24 (and/or July 8) shock everyone in Washington, Turkey will continue to be a red flashing light on the world map for the U.S., as the country seems to be on board with Erdoğan’s flirting with Russia.