The current domestic political situation in the Republic of Turkey (TR) is characterized, on the one hand, by the consolidation of the opposition, and on the other, by the actual split within the ruling “Justice and Development Party” (AKP). Against this background, the opposition between the supporters of the ruling AKP, which makes up less than 50% of the Turkish electorate (on the one hand) — large businessmen, students, intellectuals, as well as a significant part of the urban residents of Turkey, traditionally oriented towards European values, on the other hand, intensifies.
Under these conditions, the stagnation of the Turkish economy leads to an increase in socio-political tension and, as a result, can lead to civil confrontation. The prospects of the ruling AKP and personally Turkish President R.T. Erdogan seem vague, including due to the fact that in recent years, the official foreign policy of Ankara has transformed from the doctrine of “zero problems with neighbors” to zero — “there are no neighbors without problems” (excluding Azerbaijan).
For example, Turkey is involved in two regional armed conflicts, exhausting the economy of the republic. In other words, the main problem of R.T. Erdogan and his ruling AKP is the lack of internal political consensus on what the main civilizational idea and strategy are in principle in the ruling elite of Turkey.
Causes of buckling
The stability of the political regime of R.T. Erdogan depends on the level of intra-elite conflict, which, judging by the latest trends, is not developing in favor of the head of the Turkish state. The following factors testify to this. Firstly, on November 19, 2019, the ruling AKP published the results of a public poll according to which Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul from the People’s Republican Party (NPP) and former co-chair “became the most popular politicians in Turkey after R.T. Erdogan Democratic Party of Peoples ”(DPN) Selahaddin Demirtash. Further on the list are the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (PND) Dovlet Bahceli and the leader of the Good Party (KP) Meral Akshener, while Kemal Kılıçdaroлуlu, the head of the Popular Democratic Party, took only 7th place among the “favorites” of the Turkish population.
Over the past time, the rating of R.T. Erdogan has not increased. On the contrary, his image losses after the “Idlib meeting” in the Kremlin on March 5, 2020 only worsened the situation inside the republic for him. Since the conflict between the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and Turkey does not have prospects for a quick settlement by political and diplomatic means, R.T. Erdogan faces strong opposition from the Turkish opposition due to events on the Syrian front. In particular, the Turkish opposition assigns personal responsibility for the death of dozens of military personnel in the northern Syrian province of Idlib to R.T. Erdogan. But after the Russian-Turkish summit talks, he said that the events in the north-west of the SAR in the province of Idlib are currently developing in favor of Turkey. Although, the agreement signed in Moscow on March 5, 2020, formally fixes new lines of contact between the Syrian military and armed groups (controlled or not controlled by Ankara). Official Damascus significantly reduced the area of Turkish-controlled territory of Syria.
In addition, according to R.T. Erdogan, thanks to the efforts of Turkey, the situation in Libya has changed in favor of the recognized government of this country.
Secondly, the loss of the Turkish Armed Forces in the SAR and Libya negatively affects the mood of the Turkish military. It is clear that a military coup is not possible in Turkey today. However, the purges in the Turkish Armed Forces led to the fact that the army is in a personnel crisis. The military potential of the Turkish army, especially at the operational-tactical level, was badly damaged during the purges after the attempted military coup in July 2016.
Against this background, there is a latent conflict between the military and civilian appointees of R.T. Erdogan in the systems of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces. Recently, several influential generals left the Turkish armed forces. The army is disappointed with the foreign policy that civilian officials pursue abroad. In particular, cadre officers are unhappy with incompetent but loyal persons to R.T. Erdogan. In addition, there is latent discontent in the army due to the fact that the officer corps of the Turkish Armed Forces have to deal with radical groups recognized as such by the most official Ankara (the jihadist group «Hayyat al-Tahrir al-Sham», the former «Jebhat al-Nusra «). There are retired generals who consider it expedient in the interests of Turkey to withdraw Turkish troops from the Syrian province of Idlib.
Thirdly, today the government of RT Erdogan is implementing or has already implemented more than 30 infrastructure megaprojects: TANAP and Turkish Stream, Istanbul Financial Center, three nuclear power plants (including Akkuyu) and others. Many projects — bridges over the Bosphorus and Izmit Bay, the Northern Highway of the Sea of Marmara, TANAP have already been implemented, the third airport of Istanbul, Akkuyu NPP and Turkish Stream are under construction. Moreover, only the construction of the third Istanbul airport, the construction of the Selim Yavuz bridge, the Marmara tunnel and the development of the Istanbul Canal project required attracting up to 2/3 of the total investment.
The official justification for the implementation of the above mega-projects is tied to the date of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. These megaprojects should strengthen the power positions of the ruling AKP and personally of R.T. Erdogan. However, environmental threats and the lack of transparency in the implementation of many megaprojects pose significant risks to the economic policy of the Turkish president.
Despite the desire of R.T. Erdogan through technical modernization to raise Turkey to the level of highly developed countries of the world, the use of megaprojects as a driver of the Turkish economy can solve the local problems of the country’s economic development without creating the prerequisites for sustainable economic growth as a whole with all the ensuing negative political consequences for President of the Republic. (Without questioning his previous achievements in the economic field).
Turkish leadership understands this problem. A new medium-term economic development program until 2021 with the ambitious title “New Turkey” has been adopted. Thus, it is planned to reduce the current account deficit from the current 6% to 2.6% by 2021 by reducing the dependence on imports. For Turkey, this will mean a breakthrough not only in industrial development, but also entry into the post-industrial period. It is hardly possible to achieve these goals amid Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian and Libyan crises, as well as the negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Turkish foreign trade deficit in March of this year almost tripled due to increased imports and reduced exports. Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) reports that in March this year the deficit grew to $ 5.39 billion from $ 1.92 billion in the same month of 2019. At the same time, imports in March increased by 3.1% to $ 18.8 billion, and exports decreased by 18% to $ 13.4 billion. This means that over the month, exports covered 71% of imports, compared with 90% a year. earlier. In addition, only 3% of industrial goods produced in Turkey belong to the high-tech group, which are recorded in the country’s exports. Moreover, the Turkish economy may contract by 2% in 2020, despite a 4.3% GDP growth recorded in the 1st quarter of 2020. This was written by the news portal SamanyoluHaber with reference to the report of the research group Capital Economics.
The components of the possible success of the Turkish opposition
Firstly, it is the consolidation of opponents of R.T. Erdogan, support for the Kurdish segment of the Turkish electorate, as well as the decline in the popularity of the AKP among all sectors of society. In Turkey, according to a recent opinion poll, the rating of the ruling AKP decreased by 6.7% compared with the results of the recent elections. According to the Turkish resource Cumhuriyet, the results of a poll showed that if the ruling AKP won 42.6% of the vote during the elections in 2018, this year the party’s rating dropped to 35.9%.
6.7% of the vote is about 3.5 million voters, and this is a significant loss for the party. The main opposition party — the NPP — raised its rating by 4.1%: today 26.3% are ready to vote for it.
This tendency is connected with the fact that the opposition is beginning to gain popularity among the AKP electorate, which directly affects the stability of the ruling party. In general, the ruling AKP won in 2019 in 40 of the 81 Turkish provinces. In the previous elections in 2014, this figure was significantly higher — 53. (Although, the AKP ally, the «National Action Party», was successful in 12 provinces).
The main slogan of the Turkish opposition is the need to put an end to the rule of R.T. Erdogan and return Turkey to parliamentary democracy. Among the priorities of the opposition highlights: the return of Syrian refugees to the SAR; raising the minimum wage; the abolition of the sanitary fee; refusal of increased monetary allowance and regular additional payments to civil servants.
Turkish opposition parties plan to nominate a single candidate for the presidency of Turkey against R.T. Erdogan in the presidential election of 2023. In anticipation of the presidential election in June 2018, some opposition politicians were unable to agree to nominate Abdullah Gul as the single candidate for the ex-president of Turkey. Opposition parties instead nominated their own candidates in the election. As a result, R.T. Erdogan was re-elected, gaining 52.6% of the vote in the 1st round.
Opposition parties in 2023 are likely to create a strong alliance, as was the case in the 2019 local elections. During these elections, opposition candidates circumvented the ruling AKP, winning in five of Turkey’s six most populous provinces, including Ankara and Istanbul.
It should be noted that the NPF and the prosecutor’s DPN plan to develop strategies to create alliances to confront R.T. Erdogan. Politico-military pressure on Turkish Kurds is part of the official strategy of the ruling AKP. Moreover, the Turkish authorities are aware that the so-called The “Kurdish” issue cannot be resolved either by military means or by mass arrests of Kurdish politicians and deputies. Indeed, without the inclusion of the “Kurdistan Workers Party” (PKK) in the dialogue with the Turkish authorities, the problematic southeast of the country will not calm down and as a result, this region of the country will continue to lag economically behind the rest of the republic with all the ensuing negative consequences for any central government.
If the PKK previously insisted on creating an autonomous region in southeastern Turkey, after concluding a truce with the official authorities of the country in 2013, which lasted until 2015, it proposed expanding the cultural rights of the Kurds, constitutional recognition of the Kurdish identity, self-government of the Kurdish area and the use of the Kurdish language school. However, none of the above requirements was taken into account in the package of implemented reforms. The use of the Kurdish language is allowed only in elementary schools, villages and urban-type settlements are allowed to return Kurdish names, and three Kurdish letters were introduced into the Turkish alphabet. (Even in schools, the obligatory phrase “How happy is he who calls himself a Turk” was canceled). Naturally, the PKK after 2015 has tightened its position and is demanding autonomy for the Turkish Kurds.
It should be noted that in the armed struggle of Turkish Kurds for independence, not only members and sympathizers of the PKK, but also representatives of other Kurdish military-political organizations take part: “Hawks (falcons) of freedom of Kurdistan”, “Falcons of the East”, “Avengers”, “Grandchildren” Saladdin «, etc. However, official Ankara hides the fact of the presence in Turkey of a number of armed Kurdish organizations of a national liberation orientation. In addition, Turkish Kurds form the core of activists of Turkish left-wing political organizations, also focused on a radical struggle with the official authorities of Turkey.
An important trend — according to a survey by the Turkish Statistical Institute, in western Turkey the birth rate is much lower than 2.1, which is necessary for the reproduction of the nation. The number of births in southeastern Turkey is significantly higher. Accordingly, the Kurdish minority in Turkey is growing, while in the rest of the country it is not, which means that it is the Kurds that partly “stabilize” and determine the demographic situation in the country.
But the ruling AKP denies Kurdish identity. By the way, during the referendum campaign, the AKP leaders and Turkish official authorities at rallies stated that there was no Kurdish problem in the country. Therefore, official Ankara by administrative methods deprives the prosecutor’s DPN of elected deputies of the country’s parliament and local municipalities, which, according to the logic of the authorities, should strengthen the power positions of the AKP.
The fact is that the DPN is fighting from a legal position, not only for the rights of Turkish Kurds, of which there are over 18 million people in the country (approximately 23% of the population), but also for the rights of all national and religious minorities. After all, the Turkish Constitution does not allow the presence of any other ethnic groups in the country, except for the Turks. In addition, the implementation of the above scenario excludes DPN from the negotiation process on the “Kurdish” issue, although this party does not consider itself to be purely Kurdish, but is pro-Kurdish.
In turn, the Turkish authorities are trying to impose on the international community the thesis that the IS extremist movement and the Kurdish national liberation movement in the country are an equal enemy, and Turkish Kurds pose a great danger to Turkish statehood.
This circumstance is explained by the fact that officially Ankara traditionally considers Turkish Kurds “number one enemy”, since the self-determination of the Kurds, according to the Turkish authorities, violates the territorial integrity of Turkey and undermines its political, economic and military power.
RT Erdogan believes that it is not possible to peacefully resolve the situation with the Kurds, as they continue to pose a threat to the national security of the Turkish state. Official Ankara is not going to give autonomy to the Turkish Kurds. In one of his public speeches, R.T. Erdogan stated that there is no peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. Moreover, a dialogue between the official authorities of Turkey and the Kurds is possible only with politically equal rights, providing for the preservation of seats in parliament for the DPN and the participation of Kurds in the political life of the country. In other words, the military-political situation in southeast Turkey will remain in a de facto state of war with the Kurds. Moreover, official Ankara intends to maintain an emergency in the south-east of the country.
Secondly, the ruling party of the AKP is thoroughly concerned about the new political organizations of the ex-Minister of Economy of Turkey Ali Babacan («Party of Democracy and Breakthrough») and the ex-Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu («Party of the Future»). The new parties have chosen political tactics aimed at splitting the AKP. In addition, the AKP problems with corruption will deepen in the near future, as A. Babacan and A. Davutoglu will pointly pedal this problem.
R.T. Erdogan is especially afraid of the party of A. Babajan, since the latter controlled the economy during 2003-2010, when the incumbent president of Turkey positioned his success as “his own” and to this day uses his achievements. The party of A. Babadjan attracts the most popular figures leaving the ruling AKP.
Most likely, the Turkish politician who can really challenge R.T. Erdogan is E. Imamoglu. This is particularly evidenced by a survey conducted in January 2020 by the Center for Social Research at the University of Bahçeşehir. So, in the upcoming presidential election in 2023, 41.4% of respondents are ready to vote for E. Imamoglu, while 39.1% support R.T. Erdogan.
The results of the opinion poll also showed that E. Imamoglu was the only candidate who received support from the electorate of all opposition parties. 96% of the votes of the MPs, 76% of supporters of the pro-Kurdish DPN and 81% of the electorate of the KP are ready to vote for the mayor of Istanbul.
Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan