While Turkish elections are due in about two years, the country is experiencing acceleration of events, both on internal and external levels, amid the involvement of the current government in many policies, which may lead to a clash with the international community, according to the political analyst Abdullah Al-Mirghani.
Israeli newspapers have published news of an agreement between European countries and the United States to impose sanctions on Turkey. They aim to force the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be changed on a number of regional issues, such as the military intervention in Libya, the military operations in Syria, the use Russian S400 system, the provocations towards the European Union regarding the refugee crisis, and the recent case of Hagia Sophia mosque.
Before the elections: Turkey faces the same scenario of Iran
Al-Mirghani describes those sanctions – if applied – as a painful hit to Turkey, especially that the Turkish economy is suffering. At the same time, he doubts that these sanctions will significantly affect the outcome of the elections in a way that AKP could lose its absolute power, given that imposing sanctions is not new to Turkey. Moreover, the Turkish society have little interest in matters related to the international side and foreign policies, when determining their electoral choices.
However, the US imposed sanctions on Ankara in 2019 have affected the general structure of the economy. Data from the Turkish statistics authority revealed that the poverty rate in the country reached 37.5 percent last year, after it stopped on 18 percent in 2002, with the AKP coming to power.
Al-Mirghani notes that the choices of the Turkish voters might be affected partially by the sanctions. Therefore, it will not be sufficient to bring down the current government, but rather may, at best, limit in some way its complete influence and ability to rule the country and eliminate the opposition parties, similar to what is happening currently. Al-Mirghani adds that it is more likely that the sanctions policy could fail in changing the approach of the AKP-led government, especially that it adopts historic nationalist speeches, seeking to restore former glories. This has clearly appeared on several occasions, such as the first Friday prayer in Hagia Sofia mosque and the direct military intervention in Libya.
The preacher in Hagia Sofia ascended to the pulpit carrying an Ottoman sword, while President Erdogan mentioned the Ottoman sailor, “Khair Al-Din Barbarossa”, at the beginning of the military intervention in Libya, which was considered a new indication of the national and Ottoman foundations upon which the Turkish government intends to be based on.
The researcher in Turkish affairs Muhammad Al-Jagl agrees with Al-Mirghani. He says that the Turkish president does not aim to win all Turkish people to elect him, but rather reaching out to nationalists and voters outside the cities, believing the more external pressure on the country, the more patriotism of the government.
However, the fact that the sanctions would not significantly affect the results of the general elections does not mean that the Turkish economy or the government would not be affected, so Al-Jagl. If more sanctions are passed on Turkey, Ankara will experience a new version of the Iranian economy, in light of the big similarity in the ruling mechanisms between the AKP government and the regime in Iran, especially in the form of engagement with the international community, populist discourses, and adopting the conspiracies theory.
The Turkish opposition previously accused President Erdogan and the AKP of seeking to form an armed institution similar to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, known as the “Night Guards”, whom the Turkish government granted exceptional powers, making them more like a force similar to the security bodies.
Opposition front and the choices for the next stage
Parallel to the international plans against the Turkish government, the opposition is preparing to form a united front against the current coalition, represented by AKP and MHP, according to the announcement of the head of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdar Oglu yesterday.
According to Saleh Abdul Qadir would be an important, but insufficient step. He points out that the Turkish opposition would still be operating in a traditional way, not fitting with the approach of the government, which plays on the feelings of the Turkish public by promoting the idea of the caliphate and the caliph, as he stated.
The Gercek Hayat magazine, close to AKP, has frankly called in its new issue to declare a caliphate in Turkey. It wondered, „if it is not now, then when? If not you then who? Let us gather for the caliphate!“
Talking about history, glories, and a country threatened by danger, represents the main line of the propaganda pursued by the ruling party towards its targets audience, according to Abdul Qadir. He says that the opposition is requested urgently to focus on winning the voters for AKP and getting closer to the Turkish people, instead of just using academic speeches and statistics.
Abdul Qadir also points out that the biggest challenge for the opposition to win the elections would be related to its focus on an alliance with the defectors from the AKP, especially with former party leader Ahmed Davutoglu and his deputy, Ali Babacan. Qadir said that the two men would be able to penetrate AKP voters and attract them in favor of voting for their new parties, which is also underlined by Al-Mirghani in his talks with MENA Studies and Research Center, where the Islamic and national background of both could help them confront AKP in its own battle ground.
In addition, Al-Marghani considers that a possible defeat of AKP in upcoming elections would be linked with two basic points: The first the need for the opposition to open up to Islamist movements and figures opposed to AKP, in order to win the votes of the Islamists and nationalists. The second is the opposition’s awareness that what is required in this stage is to bring down the current government, rather than winning more seats in the parliament. He points out that all opposition parties must unanimously support any alternative to the current government, whatever its backgrounds, as long as they are opposed to Justice and Development Party.
Al-Marghani concludes by stressing that a victory of the ruling party in the Turkish elections of 2023 would mean that it will continue in power forever, and dropping them down in the future would be very costly. Where the end of the party’s rule at that time will only happen through a military coup, ending-up up with entering the country in a new cycle of coups and military control or foreign military intervention, which may turn it into another Syria or a new Iraq.