Turkey turns to domestic agenda after US talks

Turkey turns to domestic agenda after US talks

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump last week was important even though it failed to bring about concrete outcomes to the existing problems between the two nations.

Erdoğan admitted the fact that his talks with Trump failed to resolve the bilateral problems at an address to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers at the Turkish Parliament yesterday.

Plus, he hinted that there seems to be no hope for transforming the picture of Turkish-American ties as he underlined that Trump will likely follow a much more cautious stance on Turkey because of the ongoing impeachment process and next year’s presidential elections.

Already under pressure because of the impeachment procedures, the U.S. president is unlikely to make an effort to stop Congress from sanctioning Turkey through punitive measures in the coming period.

Trump’s move to gather Erdoğan with prominent U.S. senators was a message to the Turkish president that he should not expect much from the White House to avoid sanctions and that it was Turkey that should persuade the American congressmen.

This message is well received by Ankara as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that a new campaign will soon begin to establish new communication channels between the Turkish Parliament and the U.S. Congress as well as between the civil societies of the two nations. The objective is to remove the widespread prejudices and misinformation on Turkey’s fight against terror in its region, the minister said.

Turkey will also use the upcoming NATO Summit as a platform to explain the heavy burden it has to handle because of the ongoing Syrian turmoil with calls on the allies to show solidarity and support its plans to return Syrian refugees to their homeland.

The four-way meeting that will bring together the leaders of Turkey, France, Germany and the United Kingdom on the sidelines of the NATO summit will also be important, but there are not many chances for Erdoğan to get what he expects from the European heavyweights.

This long introduction could be interpreted as the termination of the Turkish government’s months-long efforts to dominate the nation’s agenda with the foreign and security agenda thanks to the military operation into Syria in early October. It would, therefore, be normal to suggest that the domestic agenda will soon prevail.

Yesterday’s parliamentary meetings of the political parties give some signals to this end. Erdoğan started his long address by urging all his lawmakers to spend their time in their constituencies if they don’t necessarily have to be in Ankara for parliamentary works.

The reason is obvious. Both former AKP heavyweights, Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, are actively traveling across the country to promote the political parties they are about to form and to seek support from different social groups, including traditional AKP grassroots.

At a party meeting early this week, Erdoğan urged lawmakers to get more involved in the government works and in touch with the people in order not to create a vacuum to be filled by Babacan and Davutoğlu. Both men are believed to announce the creation of their political parties in December, and despite calls from various groups, including the main oppositional Republican People’s Party (CHP), Babacan and Davutoğlu are unlikely to merge powers and will, instead, go their separate ways.

In the meantime, the resignation of Mustafa Yeneroğlu from the AKP had an important impact. A long-time human rights advocate, Yeneroğlu’s statements expose the AKP’s inability to address rooted problems stemming from the lack of democracy and rule of law in Turkey. It won’t be a surprise if he would join one of the two new political parties once they are formed. He suggests the formation of a large democratic bloc to stand against the AKP’s continued efforts to further undemocratize the governance in the country.

It will also remain to be seen whether Erdoğan will opt for a cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks to avoid mental fatigue as he once had hinted.
On the opposition side, the CHP continues to pursue a careful line: It hits the AKP more through the economy and other social matters, for example on the continued discussion over the retirement system, that highly resonates in the eyes of the masses. It also slams the government for the Syria policy but without criticizing the fight against terror.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is playing an important role in keeping the oppositional alliance together despite some problems with the Good Party. His close dialogue with the Good Party’s leader Meral Akşener keeps the alliance on track. Kılıçdaroğlu often slams the government for dismissing the mayors from the ranks of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and thus keeps the link with this party intact as well.

The HDP is facing problems as the campaign against its mayors resulted in the dismissal of 24 out of 69 local governors with no prospect that it will end soon. Under the pressure of the voters, the HDP is mulling over how to give a strong reaction to this campaign, including the resignation of all HDP lawmakers and mayors from their positions.

This idea is not endorsed by the HDP headquarters, but all options will be discussed at a large meeting today in Ankara.

All these events indicate that a heated political season is ahead of Turkey with potential major developments that would affect the flow of things in the next year.