2018 was a difficult and eventful year for Turkey. In terms of the internal political life of the country, the early parliamentary-presidential election held on June 24, was one of the most striking events. The election not only consolidated the results of completed reforms, it also gave the initiators of those reforms greater confidence moving forward. From the point of view of Turkish political culture, the election was unique. For the first time, citizens of the Republic of Turkey simultaneously elected both the country’s parliament and the head of state. It was also the first time in the history of modern Turkey that elections were held during a nationwide state of emergency. The results of the election were largely predictable, nevertheless, a certain intrigue in the context of complex coalition games persisted throughout the entire period of the decision process.
It would not be an overstatement to say that on June 24, a new page opened in Turkey’s political history. The elections were the final chord in the most difficult and painful stage of the country’s transition from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one. The confident victory of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the “People’s Alliance”, consisting of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) headed by him, made it possible to continue the implementation of the previously outlined goals and objectives both in domestic and foreign policy.
After the election, Erdoğan’s leadership position was significantly strengthened and his powers as head of state were expanded. The political influence of opposition forces in making domestic and foreign policy decisions decreased dramatically, despite the relative increase of their representation in the current parliament. Thus, the obstacles that stood in the way of the construction of a “new Turkey” by the centenary of the Republic – 2023 – have been minimized. The rapid implementation of the provisions of the new constitution, adopted as a result of a referendum held on April 16, 2017, began in earnest.
After the abolition of the post of prime minister, the current president received not only the opportunity to concentrate a significant part of the executive power in his hands, he also gained powerful levers of control and pressure on the legislative and judicial branches of the government, which, according to many experts, contradicts the principle of separation of powers. On the eve of the formation of the new government, there were many rumors about a transition to a technocracy. It was also assumed that the new Cabinet would feature, in addition to the supporters of the AKP, representatives of the MHP, as well as unaffiliated members. However, in reality, everything turned out differently. Personal achievements are no longer decisive: a degree of loyalty to the president has become one of the main criteria in a minister. The new government is not only non-partisan, they are supporters of the MHP. In addition, a number of ministers from the previous Cabinet retained their positions. Therefore, it is not necessary to talk about a complete renewal of Turkish state power and a transition to technocracy. At the same time, as a result of the abolition of the Office of the Prime Minister and the reformation of a number of state structures (mainly by bringing the Presidential Administration under control, as well as by introducing the practice of appointing advisers) the bureaucracy has undergone significant changes.
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey also lost many control and supervisory functions, including its direct control over the activities of the government, while also becoming more limited in its ability to impeach the head of state. As a result of the introduction of the practice of presidential decrees, the head of state has also effectively usurped the state’s legislative power. It is curious that one of the most important institutions of the judiciary, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey, is treating the situation with understanding, such as on June 30, when they rejected the demands of the country’s main opposition Party to consider null and void or repeal laws allowing the president to decree a state of emergency.
For a number of objective reasons, including those related to age and health, the current presidential term, which will last until 2023, maybe the last for Erdoğan, which makes the question of his political successor particularly relevant. The second problem is connected to disloyal groups within the ruling party. As is known, after the attempted military coup in 2016, Erdoğan carried out “purges” in the military and civil bureaucracy, as a result of which more than 50 thousand people were arrested, and more than 100 thousand were dismissed from their posts. However, such “purges” were not conducted within the ruling party itself. The AKP is the not unified space: within the party, there are representatives of various political movements and conservative forces. Moreover, some party politicians are suspected of continuing their ties with supporters of Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of organizing the failed coup d’état.
Turkish society’s current subjection to authoritarian power was established as a result of the long rule (Over 16 years) of a charismatic leader, with his conservative views and Islamic rhetoric continuing to evolve towards full Islamization. Given the current alignment of political forces in the country, it can be assumed that a large part of Turkish society supports the process of turning the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic.
The people of Turkey are interested in economic stability and are waiting for their leader to take concrete steps to improve the economic situation in the country. Currently, Turkey’s public debt is at about $ 480 billion, which is 23% of the country’s total GDP for 2017. The sharp fall of the Turkish lira further aggravated the situation. The country needs additional foreign investment, but it is not easy to attract investors given the current domestic, political and economic conditions of the country. The only choice is to continue to increase interest rates, which in turn leads to higher inflation, which is ultimately unprofitable for the private sector: especially for construction companies. As a result, the Turkish markets are suffering, including in real estate. However, without taking appropriate measures, an economic crisis may occur in the country. It is assumed that against the background of strengthening his power and the absence of compelling reasons for renewing a state of emergency, Erdoğan and his entourage can afford unpopular methods to improve the situation in the country, thus eliminating or postponing the likelihood of an economic crisis.
In addition to the political and socio-economic problems in the country, its security problems remain acute, one of the main sources of which is the unresolved Kurdish problem. The Turkish public hopes for a speedy resolution of the Kurdish issue and the maintenance of peace and stability in the south-eastern provinces of the republic with a predominantly Kurdish population, which border Syria and Iraq. However, the Turkish authorities see no solution to the Kurdish problem besides force and do not intend to resume negotiations with Kurdish settlements. Ankara’s next steps in this regard, it seems, will largely depend on developments in neighboring countries.
Of course, as long as the threat of the emergence of Kurdish autonomy persists in Syria, Turkey will make great efforts to minimize the influence of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party and its combat wing, the Popular Self-Defense Forces units near Turkish borders. The Popular Self-Defense Forces activity in Syria, as well as the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq, is viewed by Ankara as a reason for conducting cross-border operations. Damascus and Baghdad, as is well known, are against this interpretation of rights. However, despite this, the presence of Turkish armed forces in the territory of neighboring states continues. This is one of the main subjects of discussion at the current international platforms on resolving the Syrian crisis. On the other hand, Ankara appears to be using the “Kurdish threat” as a tool of persuasion during negotiations with the most influential external players in Syria. In the absence of a direct effective dialogue between Russia and the United States on the Syrian issue, Turkey manages to advance its point of view. This approach to maneuvering has already brought Ankara dividends on the Syrian track. Therefore, in the near future, it hardly seems likely Turkey will change their strategy.
In general, in Turkey’s foreign policy, both short and medium term, the multi-vector approach will be strengthened. Diplomatic maneuvering between the great powers is a distinctive feature of current Turkish foreign policy and one of the main signs of its multi-vector nature. Turkey is extremely interested in establishing a strategic balance on the foreign policy track. Turkey knows perfectly well what it is like to be dependent on one country or a group of states, and understands that the path to independence goes through strengthening ties with alternative centers of power in world politics. Taking into account the fact that Ankara already has rather close contacts with Washington, it can be assumed that, in the medium term, it will either try to reduce their level, as further growth may be detrimental to its foreign policy independence, or increase its relations with alternative players in global politics.