Expect a shift in Turkish foreign policy soon

Expect a shift in Turkish foreign policy soon

It will soon be clear, perhaps within weeks, whether a coalition government will be formed in Turkey, preventing the country from being dragged to another election this year.

After receiving strong messages from society, business circles, and from their own newly elected MPs, the party leaders - especially Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) - are likely to do their best to avoid a possible election in November. Another election within six months, as signaled by both Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and President Tayyip Erdoğan, could put an additional burden on economy and politics.

The only way to avoid an early election is to form a coalition government. Many business circles openly favor a “grand coalition” between the AK Parti and the CHP.

If such a coalition can be established, one of the first things we should expect to change is Turkey’s foreign policy.

The foreign policy of successive AK Parti governments, especially after the start of the Arab Spring in 2010 and particularly on Syria and the Middle East, was one of the favorite subjects of criticism by the CHP during the election campaign.

It would be no surprise if Kılıçdaroğlu insists on the CHP being given the Foreign Ministry in a possible coalition deal with AK Parti.

One of the first things that CHP would like to see is a shift in policy on Syria, including the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The ups and downs of the Kurdish groups fighting against ISIL - amid the suspension of Kurdish peace talks in Turkey by the government at the beginning of the election campaign - could be affected by the result of such a deal.

Of course, the change would not be a radical one, as the AK Parti would still be leading the government. But it could be expected to take a tougher stance against ISIL alongside Turkey’s NATO allies, impose stricter border control, and adopt better migration control. Indeed, Kılıçdaroğlu promised during the election campaign that he would aim for the safe return of the more than 2 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey - after a political settlement in Syria, to which Turkey would contribute.

The CHP wants Turkey to return to its cautious foreign policy line regarding Iraq, Egypt, Israel and Libya, and the Middle East in general. Turkey currently has no ambassadors in Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Libya, in addition to the Republic of Cyprus and Armenia.

The CHP has also vowed to revive Ankara’s relations with the European Union with a more Western-oriented, democracy and rights-focused foreign policy. Relations with the U.S. and Russia could be expected to get a fine-tuning under a CHP-led Foreign Ministry. Turkey’s relations with the U.S. have lately been - as in the Cold War years - mainly military-to-military, especially over the last two years. The CHP may also question the country’s dependency on Russia in energy issues.

In any case, one should expect a fine-tuning in Turkey’s foreign policy as soon as a coalition government is established.