Author: Yusuf CINAR, Ankara
Incumbent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the first round of presidential elections with 52.5% of the votes and became the first head of state under the new government system. His main rival, a candidate from the Republican People's Party (RPP) Muharrem Ince received 30.6%, a candidate from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (DPP) Selahattin Demirtas - 8.3%, a candidate from the Good Party (GP) Meral Aksener – 7,3% of the votes. Thus, the main results of the recent presidential elections in Turkey were the transition from the parliamentary system of government, which has been in effect since 1923, to the presidential one, as well as the election of Erdogan as the first head of state under the updated system of government.
Why early elections?
After an attempted coup on July 15, 2016, Turkey had to simultaneously conduct an almost two-year struggle against the terrorist organization of the followers of Fetullah Gülen (FETÖ) and the ethnic separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) both inside and outside the country.
In 2016 and 2017, the average annual growth rate of the Turkish economy was 4.0% and 2.9%, respectively, although this indicator has traditionally been 5% for countries of this scale. The deficit of Turkey's trade balance in 2017 reached $77 billion. Economic conditions, in particular the short-sightedness of investors regarding the unconsidered probability of the upcoming elections, became a weighty factor that contributed to holding presidential elections earlier than expected.
Counter-terrorism measures taken by Turkey against FETÖ and PKK have increasingly exacerbated foreign pressure on the country. Another reason for early elections held on June 24 was R. T. Erdogan’s desire to feel the level of popular support in his fight against the above-mentioned terrorist organizations.
Same as the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), the Nationalist Movement Party (NMP), which played a key role in holding early elections, experienced an acute inner-Party crisis in 2017. As a result, some heads of municipalities in large Turkish cities from JDP, as well as some former members of NMP, have united under the roof of a new political group called the Good Party. In this regard, early elections could be a reliable tool for the renewal of party lists of both JDP and NMP.
The main opposition party, RPP, accepted the appeal of the ruling party to hold early elections as a challenge. Nevertheless, as in the previous elections, when JDP was the main opponent of RPP, the party began current presidential race with a trivial mistake again - it announced its presidential candidate too late. The name of its presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, was announced after all the other parties had done so already. Despite the rather high, albeit unexpected level of activity shown by M. Ince in the elections, these efforts were clearly not enough.
Good Party was founded after the attempts of the current chairman of the party, Meral Aksener (former NMP member), failed to defeat Devlet Bahceli and replace him as the head of NMP. Announcing her candidacy for the forthcoming presidential elections, Meral Aksener actually prevented the participation of former President Abdullah Gul as a joint candidate from RPP and the Party of Happiness. Thus, RPP, Party of Happiness and Good Party formed the National Alliance, agreeing to support the candidate who wins the first round of presidential elections. DPP nominated Selahattin Demirtas, while the party itself was accepted neither into the National Alliance nor into the People's Alliance formed between the ruling JDP, NMP and the Great Union Party (GUP).
Expectations of the second round
During the electoral process, JDP has repeatedly stated that the presidential elections would end immediately after the first round of voting, while the opposition considered the probability of such an outcome as almost impossible. According to the opposition, it would be very difficult to complete the elections after the first round if each party nominated its candidate. As a proof, it showed the previous presidential elections held in 2014, when a single candidate from several Turkish parties Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu received 39% of the votes, actually running second in the presidential race. NMP, which participated in the presidential election of 2014 jointly with RPP, was already a part of the People's Alliance at the recent elections, along with JDP. The situation of voters in both parties (JDP and NMP) was rather shaky, which prompted discussions whether the People's Alliance could get the support of voters beyond the alliance.
The fact that parliamentary elections were held in parallel with the presidential elections has encouraged party organisations within the People's Alliance to take part in the electoral processes. Thus, according to the results of parliamentary elections, JDP and NMP (People's Alliance) collected 42.56% (295 deputies) and 11.10% (49 deputies) of the votes, respectively. RPP, Good Party, and Party of Happiness (National Alliance) got the support of 22.64% (146 deputies), 9.9% (43 deputies) and 1.35% of the voters. As can be seen, JDP could not ensure the majority of parliament seats independently. In other words, under these conditions, NMP can play a key role in parliamentary work. Undoubtedly, the main pre-election promise of NMP was a general amnesty for prison inmates. Therefore, the "role" of the party in the Turkish parliament will strongly depend on whether it can fulfil its pre-election promise. In particular, it is necessary that JDP works closely with NMP during the budget development, since it will not be able to independently get the approval of the parliament. Thus, it seems that the activities of the Turkish parliament will continue to depend on the will and joint decisions of the JDP-NMP coalition government. Meanwhile, the future of the JDP-NMP parliamentary alliance will also be influenced by whether NMP will demand ministerial posts from the government headed by incumbent President Erdogan; for if NMP accepts the offer to occupy responsible positions in ministries, this will only strengthen the state of the alliance.
Turkish foreign policy after elections
Good Party and NMP represent the nationalist circles of the Turkish right-wing opposition. Total share of voters of both parties is about 21%. Considering that the JDP-NMP will remain for the next five years, the nationalist rhetoric will prevail in Turkish foreign policy. As President R. Erdogan stated, the Turkish Ministry for European Affairs was merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which indicates the end of special bilateral relations between Turkey and the EU. It can be assumed that in the next five years, Turkey's relations with the EU will not develop in the closest possible way. In other words, the EU can expect positive steps from Turkey only if it takes adequate steps towards the latter. All other options for the development of events seem unlikely.
Turkey's relations with Syria and Iraq can be exacerbated from time to time, given the rather prominent presence of terrorist organizations in both countries. On the contrary, the beginning of Erdogan’s new presidential term can strengthen Turkish-Iranian relations. By the way, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, along with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, was one of the first heads of state to congratulate President Erdogan on his re-election. It is very likely that the Turkish president will make his first official visit after the elections to Northern Cyprus or to Azerbaijan.
Considering the ongoing regional events and recent statements by President Erdogan, it can be assumed that Turkey and Russia will continue the rapprochement in the future. In particular, the purchase of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia, as well as the construction of nuclear power plants in Turkey will contribute to this rapprochement.
As for Turkey's relations with the US, the process of mutual distrust may continue in the future. In particular, the US reluctance to expel the leader of the terrorist organization Fethullah Gulen may further aggravate relations between both countries. Another decisive factor in Turkish-American relations is the American position regarding the future of Syria. In other words, Turkish-American relations in many respects will depend on whether the US will continue supporting the protégés of PKK in the region - the Party of Democratic Unity. Given all of the above, it can be assumed that over the next five years, Turkey will implement a real foreign policy based on pragmatic considerations.
As expected, the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a confident victory in the first round of presidential elections on June 24. It is obvious that economic problems will be on top of the political agenda of the "old new president". At the same time, the international community will closely follow the steps of the newly elected president in foreign policy. Obviously, RPP lost the presidential elections. It is likely that the additional votes cast for party candidate, Muharram Ince, make the inner-party debates over the party leadership relevant. Admittedly, the recent presidential elections were the twelfth elections in which President Erdogan secured an unconditional victory, each time getting the support of more than 40% of voters. This testifies the political genius of Mr. Erdogan. In fact, he has managed to turn critical situation into his favour at every election. As to psychological state of the opposition, it can be seen with a naked eye that the opposition literally loses confidence in its potential. Indeed, a sharp struggle for the seat of the party chairman is taking place inside both RPP and Good Party.