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Turkey between Erdoğan and the possibility of a change

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Turkey between Erdoğan and the possibility of a change

Turkey is fast approaching what many observers are calling a historic turning point. In fact, parliamentary and presidential elections will take place on 14 May. At stake is the reconfirmation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has ruled the country unchallenged for twenty years. From a symbolic and political point of view, the elections fall in 100th anniversary since the founding of one secular republic wanted by the father of the new Türkiye, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. A republic that has become increasingly religious, extremist and authoritarian with Erdogan, thus moving away from the model conceived by Ataturk.

Unlike the previous elections in which the “caliph” of Ankara won hands down, this time it is Kemal Kilicdaroglu who succeeded in the miracle of gathering 6 opposition parties around his name. Today the polls give him a slight advantage even if overall this coalition of parties appears structurally weak.

Elections in economic and humanitarian emergency

The problems to face for both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are immense. Just think of the drama almost forgotten by our mass media of the damage caused by the devastating earthquake of last February, to which must be added the poor performance of the country’s economy which in the worst moments reached85% inflation rate internal and brought the Turkish lira to collapse. Economic results largely due to Erdogan’s decision to direct fiscal policy personally, against the opinion of central bank technicians who did not share the expansive and imprudent choices desired by the president.

So today the opposition remains largely united against Erdogan both for the evident incapacity of the government in managing the aftermath of the earthquake and for the bankruptcy management of the economy. On the level of foreign policyOn the other hand, Erdogan’s protagonism and ambition have created situations of ambiguity and compromise that are difficult to manage by an opposition within which the positions of the parties differ. Think about the Turkey’s role in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Erdogan continued to supply the killers drone Bayraktar in Kyiv allowing that country to resist the first stages of the Russian invasion, but at the same time Ankara has refused to apply Western economic sanctions to Moscow.

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Between the EU, NATO and Russia

Thanks to the substantial personal relationships with Vladimir Putin, Erdogan has proposed himself as a mediator. In fact, he managed to get Russia and Ukraine to agree to the passage of grain and fertilizers from both countries through the Black Sea, also thanks to Turkey’s transit power over the Dardanelles towards the Mediterranean. At the same time he reports within the Natoof which the country is still an important part, have worsened with the long contrast to the entry of Finland (later returned) and to Swedenfrom which Erdogan demands the return of dissidents to his regime who have fled to that country.

Then i still weigh bad relations with Washington (and with NATO) for the purchase of Russian missile systems in 2019, the S-400, which was followed by the American retaliation for not supplying Ankara with the latest generation F 35 jets. The opposition therefore thinks of remedying these anomalous positions for a NATO member country, but not everyone agrees also because there is widespread anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in the country.

There are even greater problems with regards to Türkiye’s relations with the EU. Since 2018, EU accession negotiations have been frozen due to the repeated violations of human rights, press freedom and democratic values ​​decided by Erdogan, especially after the failed coup against his regime in 2016. The break with the EU has only worsened the internal situation and the opposition would therefore like to resume relations with Brussels precisely to underline Turkey’s return to democracy. The trouble is that within the EU there are countries like la France and theAustria who have no intention of seeing Turkey again at the negotiating table. The Turkish opposition knows this well, but argues that there are other ways to bring Turkey closer to the EU, such as a real customs union, visa liberalization and close cooperation on the climate and common defense and security both within NATO and also bilaterally with the EU.

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Türkiye needle between Europe and the Middle East

But it is clear that, if Kilicdaroglu were to prevail, the EU’s position towards Turkey will have to change radically in order to firmly link Ankara to our policies. Starting with the problem of 3.6 million Syrian refugees which are hosted with European money inside Turkey and represent a weapon of blackmail in the hands of Erdogan. The opposition proposes to coordinate immigration policy with the EUfacilitating the gradual and voluntary return of refugees to Syria.

But for this to happen it is necessary to come to terms with the Damascus dictator Bashar al-Assad and withdraw the Turkish soldiers sent by Erdogan in northern Syria to control the Kurds, mortal enemies of the Turkish regime. In short, a very difficult challenge for which an active role for the EU is more than ever necessary, even if not very probable. The challenge between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu is therefore very important. It will also play on the character of the two candidates. Erdogan a charismatic figure, in power for the past 20 years and supported by the most conservative forces in the country. Kilicdaroglu known as the “Turkish Gandhi”, a humble man and a 74-year-old ex-official. A challenge that seems impossible to win, but which however it goes will have both internal and international effects of very far-reaching significance; effects that should be followed with great attention by a Europe that is still too distracted today.

Cover photo EPA/ERDEM SAHIN

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