Turkey and the West: Three "Post-Electoral" Scenarios
We are approaching a critical moment in Turkey's modern history: the snap elections scheduled to take place on June 24 will not only switch the country's administrative system from parliamentary to presidential, but will also have important repercussions on Turkey's relations with the West. Despite Turkey's historical and institutional ties to the West, these relations today are defined by two words: distrust and crisis. Whoever the winner is, these snap elections will have major implications on Turkey's relations with the EU, the US and NATO.
President Erdoğan's "People's Alliance" (AK Party and Nationalist MHP alliance) will compete with the "Nation's Alliance" and the pro-Kurdish HDP, which was excluded from both alliances.
There are three possible scenarios for elections (from the highest probability to the lowest):
- Erdoğan is re-elected and the People's Alliance also wins a parliamentary majority. In this case, we can expect the situation to be very similar to the current one: despite the mistrust of the two sides, an interest-based transactional approach will dominate relationships. The West is not going to sacrifice the geostrategic importance of Turkey and the latter will not risk its economic interests (the EU is the largest investor in Turkey and its most important trading partner) and security (NATO) with the West. The potential structural problem posed (a democratic backsliding and the weakness of the check-and-balances system) by the new presidential system will not allow any progress in the EU accession process. If the state of emergency is lifted, this could bring some moderation in EU-Turkey relations and it could push the EU to lift the block on updating the Customs Union. When it comes to relations with the US, there are several issues, such as American cooperation with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the verdict of the deputy director of the state-owned Halkbank,  the detention of the US Pastor Brunson, the purchase of Russia's S-400 missile defence system. On the other hand, despite the negative preconception of NATO in current AK Party circles, there is the consciousness that Turkey's NATO membership increases its leverage vis à vis Russia and Iran. Nevertheless, relations with Russia will continue to counterbalance Turkey's difficult relations with the West. The structural problems (democratic backsliding), foreign policy priorities, different approaches to regional issues such as Syria and Iran will not disappear but will continue to be the sources of cyclical crises between Turkey and the West.
- Erdoğan wins the presidential election, but the People's Alliance loses the majority in the parliament. In this case, we return to the election scenario of June 2015, when President Erdoğan lost his majority in parliament and thus called again for snap elections. In such circumstances, a period of political uncertainty must be expected. In fact, although the new presidential system is to provide the elected president with most executive powers, there will still be some rights of law and veto in the parliament. A parliament with a majority composed of an opposition united for the common purpose of defeating Erdoğan will make life difficult for him as president. This cohabitation will not have a chance for survival. This means that a period of political uncertainty, unpredictability and wait-and-see will be protracted, increasing the possibility of a conflictual pattern in West-Turkey relations.
- The opposition candidate Muharrem İnce (candidate for CHP) is elected president and the Nation's Alliance enjoys a parliamentary majority. This nouveau government might return to a traditional (West-leaning) approach to foreign policy in general and to a distanced and secular approach to regional issues in particular . The electoral programs and the declarations of the parties that constitute the Nation’s Alliance promise to lift the state of emergency and to return to the parliamentary system. After the elections, the new parliament will be likely to lift the state of emergency as one of its first steps. Given the criticism of various European institutions regarding the presidential system and the continuation of the state of emergency, this will send a very strong, positive sign, possibly marking the beginning of a long process of normalizing relations with the EU. Even if the Syrian crisis will dominate foreign policy, a shift in Turkish policy toward Syria will happen and the new government will seek a lower profile. Nevertheless, this shift will be limited for some major reasons: the deep involvement in the Syrian war, the relations developed with non-state actors and the fragile relations with Russia on the ground. When it comes to relations with the US, Brunson's release may bring some optimism, but the other sources of conflict mentioned above will remain for some time. İnce's position on the purchase of the S-400 and the relationship with Russia for the moment are not very clear, but we can also expect a turnaround on this point.
This alliance brings together the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), the new centre-right İyi (Good) Party and also an Islamist faction, the Saadet (Felicity) Party. For the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections, the opposition parties of the Nation’s Alliance are having their own candidates, but they will unite whichever candidate makes it to a run-off against Erdoğan supported by the Nationalist MHP in the second round.
 The Deputy Manager of Halbank has been convicted of violating US sanctions on Iran.
On the issue of the Iranian nuclear deal and new sanctions against Iran, the Turkish position is closer to that of Europe. So, the Iranian issue may be a new source of conflict as regards relations between Turkey and the US, but it may open a field of cooperation and dialogue between Turkey and Europe.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.