As the countdown has begun for Turkey’s 2023 general elections, the prospect of an Erdoğan defeat appears to be largely off the table for both the Turkish and international communities, the Independent wrote, even if he fails to secure a victory in the polls.
Western and regional nations are not weighing any options other than those that include Erdoğan and at home, there is talk of what may unfold if Turkey’s strongman refuses to step down in the case of an electoral defeat, it said.
Regardless of the outcome of elections, Turkey’s NATO allies, neighbours, and western business partners will be left with big questions after the polls, according to the Independent.
Below is the full article by the Independent:
With a little more than a year to go before Turkey’s general elections, the outlines of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to retain power are coming into focus, and they are worrying many watching the country.
So far, there is little sign that western nations or any other regional or world power are preparing for any outcome other than a clean Erdogan victory. But Turks are already discussing what could happen if he loses the election and refuses to relinquish power.
Like Belarus dictator Aleksander Lukashenko in 2020, some worry that Erdogan and his allies would cheat so egregiously and crack down on opponents so harshly that world leaders would be unable to sweep the matter under the rug. There is also the possibility that Erdogan wins the presidency but loses the parliament, or that a new centre-left administration comes into power in Ankara and renews demands to enter the EU.
None of this is high on the agenda of western policymakers. They are now focused on trying to convince Erdogan to allow Finland and Sweden to join Nato and bolster the coalition confronting Russia in Ukraine.
“We are not there yet,” said one senior western official, when asked what if any preparations were being made for a scenario in Turkey in which protests would be violently crushed, opposition leaders jailed and results possibly forged.
Whether Erdogan defies the polls and cleanly wins, loses and gracefully steps aside to allow the opposition to take over or goes the Lukashenko route, Turkey’s Nato allies, neighbours, and western business partners will face big questions.
“I have the feeling that the west is in a waiting mode about what is going to happen in 2023,” says Senem Aydin-Düzgit, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “They don’t have a plan for what they’ll do if the opposition wins. And that baffles me, because it could mean huge changes.”
Trailing badly to several prominent opposition figures in multiple polls, Erdogan is already attempting to level the playing field. Turkish courts, heavily packed with loyalists to Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), have targeted a number of his opponents on specious criminal charges.
Last month, a court upheld a four-year sentence against Canan Kaftancioglu, head of the centre-left opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Istanbul branch, on charges that include insulting Erdogan. The charismatic rising political star is widely considered the architect of the 2019 victory by Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu over Erdogan’s hand-picked candidate.
Imamoglu, among the possible presidential contenders against Erdogan, is facing charges of insulting the country’s election commission in a case that was adjourned last week until September.
Meanwhile, Selahattin Demirtas, the youthful onetime leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) remains in prison after being locked up in 2016 on various terror-related charges. HDP members, including members of parliament, are regularly arrested and charged with security-related offences.
Erodgan’s impending ground incursion against ethnic Kurdish-led armed groups in Syria is meant in part to rally the Turkish public around the flag. He claims hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, which Turks increasingly consider a burden, will voluntarily relocate to the expanded buffer zone he hopes to forge.
So far, the machinations have failed to win over voters, enraged and disillusioned by what they perceive as economic mismanagement, with inflation reaching a 24-year high of 73.5 per cent.
Multiple opinion polls conducted over months by various firmssuggest that Imamoglu, as well as CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas, would handily trounce Erdogan were elections held now. Despite its legal troubles, HDP still polls over the 10 per cent threshold necessary to win a parliamentary bloc.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s coalition partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has sunk to single digits while the CHP’s partner, the Good or Iyi Party has become the country’s third most popular political group.
All this points to a trouncing that few who know the pugnacious Erdogan and have closely watched Turkey over the years believe he would accept. Erdogan has a track record of refusing to bow down in the face of electoral setbacks. In 2015, after faring poorly in general elections, he engineered a second election in which the AKP did well enough to govern without a coalition. In 2019, he refused to accept Imamoglu’s narrow victory, demanding another election, which Imamoglu won even more handily.
Many dread the political upheavals that could erupt in the Nato nation in 2023 – or sooner if Erdogan decides to call early elections. While staff at western embassies and consulates have begun quiet discussions for the sake of the security of their personnel and to offer up potential policy options, key decision-makers in western capitals have yet to place Turkey on their agendas.
“I really worry about it,” says Nicholas Danforth, a Turkey expert at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. ”I don’t think anyone has a plan.”
Among the options that could be considered in case Erdogan seeks to egregiously steal the election are sanctions, an arms embargo or expulsion from the Council of Europe. “It would probably depend on how ugly it was,” says Danforth. “If there were protests and violence and arrests, I could see some slightly stronger measures.”
Western leaders will be careful. If they punish Erdogan too harshly, it could push Turkey further into the sphere of influence of Russia and China. Ankara could also renege on the multi-billion-dollar deal that requires it to prevent refugees from crossing over into Europe.
Given the major questions that could arise in any election dispute, some wonder whether leaders in Brussels, London and Washington would prefer a victory by Erdogan, whom they have been grappling with for 20 years, over the messiness of a new administration in Ankara.
“I feel no one wants to think about it,” says Aydin-Duzgit. “They are comfortable dealing with the leader they are used to dealing with. He’s someone they don’t want to totally include into the western security alliance, but as long as there is not much trouble, they won’t feel the need of having a Turkey policy.”
Erdogan may engage in more subtle chicanery that provides him with enough of a clean win to give western leaders an excuse to let any transgressions slide, as they do with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. He regularly uses gerrymandering of electoral districts and control of media to win elections that are technically free but grossly unfair.
As one Washington insider quipped: “I don’t think Recep Tayyip Erdogan has any plan to lose.”