Turkey’s negotiations with the EU halted long time ago, only to be temporarily resuscitated in the context of the 2016 refugee deal. As long as Erdogan remains in power there’s no chance of any improvement in the membership process.
Dr. Can Cemgil is a faculty member of international relations and international political economy at Istanbul Bilgi University. Below is his interview with ILNA regarding Turkey snap election.
ILNA: What is the main reason for the snap elections in Turkey and the selecting the month of June for this event?
First and foremost, Erdogan’s call for early elections is explicable with reference to deteriorating economic circumstances. Turkey’s economy has been suffering for long from a very high current account deficit and corporate debt, and as the plummeting Turkish Lira, accompanied by stably high unemployment and rising inflation, and despite successive hikes in interest rates. This means that sooner rather than later, the economy will face a stagflation. Keenly aware of these challenges, Erdogan called for snap elections to fend off possible repercussions of these economic woes in the form of loss of votes from working classes and shopkeepers, who constitute a large chunk of the AKP’s constituency, and who traditionally are responsive to their economic situation in making their voting decisions.
ILNA: What is the impact of Turkish elections output on the field of operations in Syria?
There are too many “ifs” as to this question. If Erdoğan wins the presidency as the candidate of the nationalist alliance securing a majority in the parliament, we might expect the continuation of military operations in Syria, although there will be massive geopolitical challenges in case of any incursion to the east of Euphrates where the US and France are actively cooperating with the SDF, one of the largest constituents of which is the Kurdish YPG, a group that Turkey sees as terrorist. At any rate, Turkey under Erdogan will continue to work with Russia for a solution that is favourable to itself. If the opposition secures a majority in the parliament with CHP’s candidate Muharrem İnce as the president, Turkey may seek to work more actively with its traditional Western partners. But one should not forget that the opposition alliance is also nationalist, albeit perhaps not as fervently as the Erdogan’s alliance. This means that the existing operations may continue even in the case of a power transition.
ILNA: How do you assess the situation of the Kurds, in particular the supporters of Selahattin Demirtaş in the election?
Kurds in Turkey are extremely disillusioned with Erdogan and the AKP. They have once again found themselves persecuted and denied just as in the 1990s after a period of relative calm until the peace process failed in 2015. Erdogan and his AKP very well know that if the pro-Kurdish left-wing HDP cross the 10 per cent electoral threshold, AKP and its ally MHP don’t have a chance to secure a majority in the parliament. This is why the HDP play a key role in the elections. One also should not be surprised to see that Erdogan and his AKP designed their campaign strategy almost solely on the basis of keeping the HDP under the threshold. Keeping Selahattin Demirtaş in prison despite a total lack of evidence against him for the politically motivated charges is part of this strategy. Another move was to move the locations of ballot boxes in key HDP strongholds to distant places. Many of its deputies have been put into prison stripped of their status as MPs and many members including district chairs and mayors have been arrested, many among other things. In spite of all these foul plays, however, I’m almost certain that the HDP will secure a strong presence in the parliament crossing the threshold unless there is massive irregularity during and after voting.
ILNA: How does outcome of this election effect on the membership of Turkey in the European Union?
Turkey’s negotiations with the EU halted long time ago, only to be temporarily resuscitated in the context of the 2016 refugee deal. As long as Erdogan remains in power there’s no chance of any improvement in the membership process. In the case of a power transition, however, the current opposition will certainly work to mend relations with the EU. However, as the EU members themselves have also been witnessing a wave of racism and xenophobia, Turkey may not be the only party that stands as a barrier before any progress.
ILNA: Turkish Lira has reached the lowest record today. What is the reason for this in your opinion?
To put the poor performance of the Turkish lira in context, one may cite the strengthening of the US dollar as a result of Fed’s rate hike decisions and the associated poor performance of the so-called emerging market currencies as a whole. But such an evaluation misses the negative decoupling of Turkish lira as one of the worst performers. This has to do a long-term mismanagement of the economy by Erdogan and his AKP, who for a long time relied completely on the abundance of cheap credit that was available in the world financial market since the early 2000s, that is, since the AKP came to power only briefly interrupted following the 2008 financial crisis and continued apace as Central Banks in the US, EU and Japan flooded markets with cheap money. Rather than using these funds in job creating productive sectors, growth was driven by consumption and construction with colossal projects contracted out to favoured cronies. With its current account deficit and private sector debt at record highs, Turkey is increasingly finding it difficult to service debts and portfolio investors lose their risk appetite resulting in an outflow of funds. So, a combination of geopolitical risk in the region, domestic political instability and the arbitrary rule of Erdogan, increasing risk of another global crisis and the more likely risk of emerging market crises result in the poor performance of the Turkish Lira.