As elections approach, is Turkey changing tactics?

While there are only a few days left before the June 7 general elections - which will be one of the most critical votes in recent history - it has been interesting to see that there were no strong foreign policy ambitions and vision declared by major Turkish political parties in their election programs.

The campaigns of the political parties, who announced their manifestos, seemed to focus on economic and domestic issues which have more impact on people‘s daily lives. How many parties will enter the parliament, how domestic politics will be shaped in the aftermath of the elections, and whether a system change will take place in Turkey are the topics on the agenda currently. Therefore, the political parties did not address much to foreign policy issues in their election programs.

In the past, foreign policy did not used to get a lot of attention in elections; however, as Turkey started to play a greater role in international and regional politics, the Turkish public started to take a more serious interest in their country’s record on foreign policy issues.

Balance in the Middle East

Although, while voting Turkish people would mostly focus on economic and domestic issues which affect them most, needless to say, the outcome and the political meaning of the election is significant as it will have a considerable impact on Turkey’s foreign relations and the balance in the Middle East.

There are several critics who argue that as the elections approach, the Turkish government has begun to play the war card

Sinem Cengiz

While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) underlined in its election program that the party will continue with its long-standing policies; the opposition parties, that is the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in their election programs formulated their foreign policy vision based on a strong criticism of the government’s handling of foreign policy issues.

In the ruling party’s election manifesto, which was outlined by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in mid-April, it was reiterated that the dynamic and multi-layered approach adopted by the party will be continued, without elaborating on the recent developments and problems in the region. The manifesto goes on to say that “this approach will be implemented through realistic foreign policy practices that would contribute to regional and global peace.” Moreover, Davutoğlu has also underlined that Turkey will continue to consolidate its constructive and unifying role in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Middle East. Rather than mentioning the future foreign policy ambitions, AK Party’s manifesto focuses mainly on the achievements of the past.

Also, there was almost no place given to the Syrian crisis in the manifesto, which only said that the crisis in the country will continue to be a foreign policy priority and Turkey will continue to help the Syrian people fleeing from their war-torn country. Most importantly, what the ruling party says in the foreign policy chapter of its manifesto is that “Turkey was on the right side of history.”

On the other side, the opposition parties argue that due to the foreign policy approach of the AK Party, Turkey’s relations with neighboring countries worsened, the country became the odd man out in the region and was dragged into the Syrian quagmire. Both the opposition parties, the CHP and MHP, argue that the government’s policy on Syria is based on the toppling of the regime rather than a long-term strategic plan. In its party manifesto, CHP stated that the Turkish people are paying the price of the “adventurist” foreign policy of the AK Party.

Developments in Syria and Egypt have been hot topics in Turkey in the recent years. These two topics have also taken attention on the eve of the latest elections. And ahead of the June 7 election, there are significant developments on these two spheres.

To start with Egypt, after the country’s ousted President Mohammad Mursi was recently sentenced to death; pro-government Turkish daily Takvim reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was seeking to save Mursi from the pronouncement. Although it is not clear whether this is true, Erdogan certainly condemned the ruling a few hours after it was announced.

On the Syrian issue, Turkish F-16s last week shot down Syrian aircraft that allegedly violated Turkey’s airspace in the southern province of Hatay. There are several critics who argue that as the elections approach, the Turkish government has begun to play the war card.

Recently, there were media reports citing the claims of CHP deputy Gürsel Tekin, who stated that the ruling party plans to send ground troops to Syria in order to gain support before the general election in Turkey. These claims were rejected by Davutoğlu, who ruled out any intervention in Syria.

In the democracies, normally important changes are expected in the aftermath of the elections; however, the manifesto of the AK Party seems to suggest no “reset” in the foreign policy approach. I personally do not expect a significant change in Turkish foreign policy after the elections, if AK Party will continue to hold the government. Neither do the other parties have a strong vision for the foreign policy line of the country. Also the recent developments in the region do not seem to affect the voting motivation of the Turkish electorate while domestic and economic issues occupy a crucial place at the moment.

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Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst based in Athens. Born and lived in Kuwait, Cengiz focuses mainly on issues regarding Middle East and Turkey’s relations with the region. She was also the former diplomatic correspondent for Today’s Zaman newspaper, English daily in Turkey. She is currently researching on Turkish-Saudi relations to complete her MA in International Relations. She can be found on Twitter: @SinemCngz

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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