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World watching Turkey elections with bated breath

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By John Solomou

Nicosia | April 24, 2023 8:38:26 AM IST
The May 14 presidential and general elections in Turkey are being watched by governments all over the world with bated breath, as for the first time in 20 years, the country's autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lose the elections and a new government may come to power under Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of six opposition parties, who declares that he wants to restore good relations with the US, the European Union, NATO and Israel and may also change the picture in the conflicts in Syria and Libya.

Two recent polls suggest that Turkey's presidential elections may head to a second round, as neither President Erdogan nor his main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu (the leader of the CHP party) will get the required 50 per cent + of the votes.

In both the polls of Aksoy polling company and the MAK company, Kilicdaroglu gets 47.8 of the vote, while Erdogan gets from 38.4 to 43.7 per cent. As regards the other two candidates, former CHP party deputy Muharrem Ince is expected to get 9 per cent of the vote, while far-right candidate Sinan Ogan is 4 per cent.

Muharrem Ince, who in the 2018 presidential elections was the candidate of the CHP party, will most probably be the reason Kilicdaroglu will fail to be elected from the first round. Last month Kilicdaroglu met with Ince trying to convince him to withdraw his candidacy but Ince apparently was adamant in his decision to contest the elections.

Kilicdaroglu's chances improved greatly when the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) which is the third largest party in Parliament, decided to support him in the presidential elections and not contest them with their own candidate.

With the exception of former US President Donald Trump who described Erdogan as "a world-class chess player", other Western leaders in private or publicly expressed their dislike of him. For example, the Vice president of Germany's lower parliamentary chamber, Wolfgang Kubicki described Erdogan as "a little sewer rat", while most Western leaders are angry with him for blocking Sweden's accession to NATO, for acquiring the Russian-made S-400 missile system and for refusing to implement the Western sanctions against Russia.

Undoubtedly, most Western leaders would like to see Erdogan replaced by a less autocratic, mercurial and stubborn leader at the helm of the Turkish state.

It is highly unlikely that Turkey's policy towards Syria will change if Kilicdaroglu is elected as the new President of Turkey. The CHP party has supported Erdogan's military incursions in Syria and particularly its military operations against the Kurdish YPG forces, which they see as enemies, trying to dismember Turkey.

Furthermore, like Erdogan, the CHP and the majority of Turkish people believe that Syrian refugees should return to their country. Erdogan repeatedly pledged to send back a million Syrian refugees on a voluntary basis, while Kemal Kilicdaroglu said his party would return Syrian refugees to their homeland within two years of his coming to power.

It is not clear if Kilicdaroglu will put an end to Turkey's involvement in the Libyan conflict or not. In the past, he had expressed his party's fierce opposition "to any decision that would result in spilling the blood of Turkish soldiers abroad." At least, Kilicdaroglu will try to de-escalate Ankara's involvement in Libyan affairs.

Today, little bind Turkey to the West and many Turks firmly believe in the often-repeated government and the press conspiracy theories and claims that the United States and the European Union are acting against the interests of Turkey.

Speaking at a gathering on April 19 Erdogan told his supporters: "All of the imperialists, from America to Europe, sided with Kilicdaroglu and his alliance."

A poll carried out by Pew Research Center showed that 72 per cent of Turks see the United States as a threat to Turkey. In contrast, those considering Russia as a threat are only 54 per cent.

In light of these perceptions, Erdogan's allegations that the US was behind the failed coup against him in 2016, coupled with the US government decision - following the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system- to expel Ankara from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, has convinced the majority that of Turks that the US is a country hostile to Turkey.

Kilicdaroglu will find it very difficult to change the perceptions of the average Turk and take decisions that will dramatically change Ankara's policy towards the United States and Russia. He will have to find a palatable way of getting rid of the S-400 missile system (perhaps by donating them to Ukraine), while not incurring the wrath of Moscow, which has become one of Turkey's major trading partners and is building the Akkuyu nuclear plant.

The exclusion of Turkey from the EU accession process- due among others to Turkey's backsliding from democratic norms under Erdogan - has created among the Turkish population a lot of resentment for the EU. The hopes they had of being accepted into Europe and becoming members of the European family were dashed and may remain a pipe dream for a long time.

As regards the effort to revive Turkey's relations with Israel- which in the past were extremely beneficial for Ankara, but were frozen due to Erdogan's frequent anti-Jewish statements - Kilicdaroglu knows that this cannot be achieved without terminating the hosting of Hamas in Turkey, something which he knows will displease several Arab states.

It is generally believed that if Kilicdaroglu wins the elections, he will try to make some important changes in Turkey and do away with the concentration of power in the hands of one man... But there is also another big "if." And that is if the elections will be free and fair and Erdogan will accept defeat.

As Sinan Ciddi, an expert on Turkish domestic politics, points out: "The opposition must not take for granted that Erdogan will lose the upcoming election or leave office quietly.... The ability to rebuild Turkish democracy will depend in part on the means by which Erdogan is held accountable for his actions but also to the extent that domestic peace is preserved." (ANI)

 
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