Four big headaches for Turkey
It might be easier to say on this last day of the year that it was a difficult year.
There were four main sources causing this difficulty: The ongoing economic crisis in Europe, the ongoing political crisis in the Middle East, the chronic Kurdish problem and the escalating polarization in domestic politics. Let's go over them one by one starting from the domestic scene.
- The fault line over the presidency: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear in 2012 that his target was not only to be the next president, but to be a president with more power and less checks and balances. He faced his first political defeat in years, on the same issue, when the Constitutional Court turned down an attempt that would have disabled the incumbent President Abdullah Gül from being a candidate for a second term. Another move to bump 2014 local elections earlier to 2013 in order to have more room to maneuver for the presidential elections in 2014 was turned down by Gül himself. It seems that the debate over presidential powers will further dominate the four-party parliamentary work in 2013 to write a more democratic constitution for Turkey and might be a major issue between the government and opposition.
- The internationalization of the Kurdish issue: The last year has been the worst of the last 10 years in terms of numbers of those killed in clashes between the security forces and the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has failed in its claim to make the 2012 its "final push," the cost being further antagonism in parliamentary politics on the Kurdish issue. On the other hand Turkey’s relations are getting surprisingly closer with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, which has a link with KRG’s rich oil and gas resources as well. Another extension of this trend might surface up in 2013 in the form of renewal of behind the door talks between the government officers and the leader of the PKK in prison.
- Syria as a pain in the neck: Turkey’s relations with both the United States (a NATO operated radar base was established) and Russia (with new energy agreements) have improved. But it is a fact that Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria proved to be much more resilient then everybody anticipated, including Ankara as one of the main actors in this theater. It is another fact that Mohammed Morsi in Egypt proved to be a more hardliner leader than many had expected; an Islamist version of Hosni Mubarak, according to the Egyptian opposition. Turkey’s profile in Iranian nuclear talks was not that high in 2012, in parallel with worsening Turkish-Israeli and Israeli-Iranian situations. But both could change in 2013 following elections in Israel.
- The economy helps Erdoğan: Turkey’s growth target for 2012, which was 3.2 might be slightly lower than that. But when compared with the crisis still badly shaking EU countries, despite employment levels not improving, Turkish people remain content. Erdoğan, who managed to balance the trade deficit from the EU markets by opening the Turkish economy up to new (though less value-adding) markets elsewhere, managed to keep his popular support of 2011 at around the same 50 percent in the absence of a strong political alternative, despite all the efforts of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition leader.