Turkish Heritage Organization Discussed the Potential Outcomes of Turkey’s Election Results

Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) Advisory Board Member Prof. Dr. Michael Gunter and German Marshall Fund Senior Fellow Dr. Joshua Walker discussed Turkey’s election results and what it would mean for the future of Turkish – American relations over a teleconference.

Dr. Walker opened the discussion by indicating that the election results were unexpected and came as a shock for everyone. Dr. Walker informed the teleconference participants that when Turkey voted in June, the main focus was economy whereas the main focus of the November elections was stability. According to Dr. Walker the other key difference between the two elections was the political leadership. He argued that President Erdogan had played a strong role therefore had a large influence in the June 7 elections. With Prime Minister Davutoglu playing a larger role in November elections, voters saw a change in campaign. Dr. Walker said that since AKP had secured a single-majority government, now the focus for the international community is going to be the evolution of the political leadership between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu, especially with regards to their stance on constitutional reform. 

Relative Domestic Stability and Opportunities in Foreign Policy

Dr. Walker argued that the results of the November’s snap elections showed that Turkey chose relative domestic stability yet it still faces serious external threats. Dr. Walker said that while voters can expect to see constitutional reform on the domestic agenda, EU and other international issues will continue to occupy Ankara.

Dr. Walker noted that German Chancellor Angele Merkel’s visit to President Erdogan, weeks before the elections, had indicated that EU – Turkish relationship will be entering a new phase.  “The question is whether this would be a simple “transactional” phase where EU asks for things and works closely with Turkey or will it go back to the period of strong Turkey – EU relations where EU has a larger role” said Dr. Walker. Emphasizing Turkey’s generous contributions and exemplary hospitality, Dr. Walker said that Turkey needs more support for the Syrian refugee crisis and this issue can be an area for EU, US and Turkey to work together and establish a tri-lateral relationship.

“Turkish foreign policy hasn’t been doing well due to both regional challenges following the post-Arab Spring world but there are a lot of opportunities now” said Dr. Walker. In addition to the Syrian refugee crisis, Dr. Walker pointed out that following the elections Turkey will now have important opportunities in critical foreign policy issues such as Cyprus and Israel. Dr. Walker noted that settling the Cyprus problem could pave the way for EU membership and strengthen EU, NATO cooperation. 

Dr. Walker concluded his comments by saying that “I would argue that [the election results] is a good thing for US – Turkey relations. You need a secure government to deal with the challenges and fight the conflicts. G20 will give some good indication of what the US – Turkey relations will look like”. 

Peace will be Extremely Difficult

Professor Dr. Michael Gunter, Secretary-General of the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) in Brussels and an expert on the Kurdish issue, echoed Dr. Walker’s comments on the election results and said that the results clearly showed voters felt that only the AKP had a proven ability to stop the violence along with the economic decline. 

Dr. Gunter cautioned that given all the renewed violence and mistrust since the June elections, it will still be exceedingly difficult for the AKP to produce peace and a healthy economy that thrives on peace. Dr. Gunter indicated that without cooperation and compromise among AKP, HDP and PKK, it will be difficult for AKP administration to make any progress on the Kurdish issue.

Highlighting the differences between Turkey’s foreign policy in Syria with the U.S., Dr. Gunter said that Turkey continues to be concerned about U.S support to Kurdish units in Syria.

Is Turkey Going into the Wrong Direction?

Responding to a question about how U.S. can improve its relations with the new government in Turkey, Dr. Walker said that if Turkey is going into the wrong direction, that would mean that Washington’s policy was clearly not in the right direction either. Dr. Walker suggested that the upcoming G20 meeting in Turkey should give U.S. Administration the opportunity show that America wants and needs Turkey to be on the table on all regional issues. Dr. Walker noted that Turkey and U.S. have never been closer because Russia’s involvement in the Middle East is actually a greater incentive for strengthening Washington’s critical relationship with Turkey.

Dr. Walker said that Kurds are the strongest allies that U.S. has in Syria against ISIS but it is important to make a distinction between groups and be sympathetic to Turkey’s concerns. “Washington has to be involved in the peace process without getting involved in Turkey’s domestic politics” said Dr. Walker.

Professor Dr. Gunter said that Syria is the main disagreement between the U.S. and Turkey and the U.S. is making a mistake by using the Kurds on the ground against ISIS. Dr. Gunter argued that PYD and KRG are not mercenaries and should not be treated as such. Instead, U.S. should stop criticizing Russia’s involvement in the region and seek common ground to work together to bring the civil war in Syria to an end.

Cooperation on Fight Against ISIS

Following a question on the cooperation against ISIS, Dr. Walker told the teleconference participants that accusations in the media in Washington against Turkey for being a “jihadi highway” have polarized and eroded the relations on this front. Despite having their differences in Syria, Dr. Walker said that U.S. has to involve Turkey at every aspect of the solution.

Dr. Gunter said that Turkey has a different view of ISIS than the U.S. and it will most likely remain so. Elaborating on the complexities of the Syrian civil war, Dr. Gunter said that the renewed talks in Vienna are promising in terms of bringing all the players in the region together and making limited progress.

The Role of Economy

Dr. Walker noted that AKP came and stayed in power because of their successful economic policies therefore economy will again be the determining factor in the next four years for AKP’s success. Credibility and independence of the Central Bank is going to be critical in Turkey’s economic success said Dr. Walker.          

Dr. Gunter suggested that economic improvements were directly related to the domestic political climate in Turkey and improving this climate and eliminating the existing polarization would improve Turkey’s struggling economy.