Empowered Erdogan to focus on economy, foreign policy

Empowered Erdogan to focus on economy, foreign policy

On Sunday, nearly 50 million Turkish voters went to the polls for a critical election, voting in both the president and the parliament. The turnout was 87 percent, the highest since 1987, and also higher than most of the established democracies around the world. The elections not only form the government for the next five years, but also shape the political landscape of the country. 
 
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the most popular and influential figure in recent Turkish history, declared victory in the presidential election after winning 52 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. He vowed to focus on the future of Turkey by leaving behind the tensions of the election period. In April, when Erdogan called for the snap parliamentary and presidential elections to be held more than a year earlier than planned, Turkey entered into a tense campaign season.
 
By securing a second term in office, Erdogan became Turkey’s first executive president following last year’s referendum on constitutional changes. This election was extremely significant for several reasons. It was historic as it took place on both the presidential and parliamentary levels. It was also held while the country is fighting with the terrorist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and Iraq, and with its Syrian wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has received serious blows in recent months. The elections also took place amid growing economic troubles in the country.
 
The presidential vote was not only important due to the timing, but also as the first of its kind in Turkey. From this summer onward, Erdogan, as executive president, will form the government by himself and there will be no prime ministerial position. 
 
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been in power since 2002, received approximately 42.5 percent of the parliamentary votes, failing to win a majority of the 600 seats. But the People’s Alliance, formed by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party, was projected to win 342 seats. This result was of critical importance as the ruling party did not receive the same support from the people as it had over the past decade. Among the many reasons put forward to explain the decrease in votes for the AK Party, the state of the economy seemed to have the highest priority. However, this didn’t affect voters’ support for Erdogan’s presidency. It should be accepted that Erdogan won a significant victory, as he is among the few leaders in the world to have won so many elections in the past 16 years and still have massive public support.
The fate of Syria in particular, and Turkey’s position in the regional arena in general, is closely linked to the outcome of the elections
Sinem Cengiz
 
Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party passed the 10 percent election threshold to enter parliament again, and the newly formed nationalist Good Party also secured seats in the parliament. The good part of the election means that Turkey is going to have the most diverse parliament since the 1980 coup, with every segment of society being represented by the various parties. A colorful parliament has important political significance; therefore it is in the best interest of Turkey for all parties to learn lessons from these elections.
 
Turkey is certainly entering a new era through this change in the system of government, with the president accumulating an important amount of power. Erdogan is undoubtedly at the center of decision-making in Turkey and has become the sole force behind the country’s policy choices, particularly in foreign strategy. We can be sure that new foreign policy issues will be on the agenda in the post-election period. 
 
In a speech from the balcony of his party’s headquarters in Ankara, Erdogan made it clear that Turkey’s fight against terrorism will resolutely continue until all terrorist elements are cleared in Syria’s Manbij and the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq. As I have said previously, the fate of Syria in particular, and Turkey’s position in the regional arena in general, is closely linked to the outcome of the elections. Ankara will continue to consolidate its sphere of influence in Syria, which it has achieved through two military operations that provided Turkey with elements of hard power. Turkey, which is playing the significant role of guarantor at the Astana peace process that could shape the future of Syria, can now continue its close coordination with Russia and Iran with more confidence. 
 
As for Turkey’s relationship with the US, not much is expected to change; except maybe a slight decrease in tensions between the two NATO allies. Ahead of the elections, Turkish and US troops started to patrol together near Manbij as part of their agreement to remove the YPG from the town. Despite the tensions due to US support for the YPG, which is unacceptable to Ankara, this step seems to show that the two countries are at least trying to keep relations on track.
 
In the same vein, when assuming that both US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are to remain in office until the end of their respective terms, not much positive change is expected in Turkish-Israeli ties. The Turkish leadership previously made it clear that it would evaluate its ties, particularly economic and trade, with Israel and steps regarding this policy would be taken after the elections. 
 
The Turkish elections were closely followed by other nations in the region. Leaders including Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani quickly congratulated Erdogan on his victory. Needless to say, economic difficulties and foreign policy issues will be placed on top of the agenda in post-election Turkey, which is likely to assume a more active role in the region.
 
  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
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