What Are the Opposition’s Foreign Policy Aims? #TurkishElections2018
As the opposition candidates in the presidential and parliamentary elections set for June 24 intensify their campaigns, one hears very little from them about their stand on foreign policy.
We know President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) position in this respect, of course. Based on what we have experienced, especially since 2011, we can say that this is more of a “piecemeal approach” to foreign policy, which is motivated by ideology, than a dispassionate and holistic policy orientation that considers Turkey’s long-term interests.
We saw this in Syria where the driving force for Ankara very quickly became a sense of Sunni solidarity, instead of the caution required given the potential complexity of the crisis, which should have been seen by a government that claims to know the region well.
This resulted in the difficult situation Ankara is trying to cope with in Syria now, mainly because it misread much regarding this crisis.
We are also aware that Erdogan and the AKP have a deep-rooted suspicion of the west, which they have an inbred dislike for due to ideological considerations. Turkey is part of the western fold all but in name today, as evidenced by its current acrimonious ties with the U.S. and Europe.
The bottom line is that Turkey’s traditional foreign policy codes, such as remaining fixed on a western orientation, or not getting involved in the bitter disputes between Middle East countries, have all been turned upside down under Erdogan and the AKP.
Whoever wins the elections will, therefore, have a massive repair job to do in this domain, and this includes Erdogan and the AKP. Whether Erdogan will change tack or opt for much the same if he wins, however, remains an unknown.
While most are betting that he will not change his angry approach, some say unexpected international developments might have a “calming effect” and force him to tone down on his abrasive style.
What Erdogan’s main rivals are promising in this respect, on the other hand, is not clear.
The Republican Peoples Party’s (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince is by nature westward oriented and pro-EU. Notwithstanding this, he is saying little about how he plans to pull Turkey back to its traditional approach to foreign policy should he win.
The same goes for Meral Aksener, the candidate of the Good Party (IYI), who some say could even outperform Ince in the elections. Aksener’s support base is nationalist of course since the IYI party appeals to those who are disgruntled with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for throwing its lot in with the AKP in these elections.
This means she is not necessarily pro-western by definition since there is a strong anti-western streak among Turkish nationalists who hail from an MHP background. Nevertheless, like the CHP the IYI party also claims to be a staunch supporter of republican values laid out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and modern Turkey’s other founding fathers.
These, including secularism, however, have their source in the west so in order to maintain her base-line political position, Aksener will also have to be more pro-western than Erdogan, and seek better ties with Europe and the U.S. should she come to power.
Ince and Aksener may be saying little on this topic, but it would be reassuring for Turks concerned with the direction their country it taking internationally to hear about the principals their foreign policy will be based on, and how they expect to fulfill their aims in this regard.
It would also help an international community (both in the east and the west) that is increasingly confused about where Turkey – one of the most important and potentially influential countries in its region – really stands today on a host of core issues.