Sovereign globalism: why Turks vote for Erdogan

After the victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, of the ruling Justice and Development Party and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, virtually all mainstream media started writing about further strengthening of the authoritarian regime in Turkey, in which the president will have more powers, more tools for a direct and indirect control over both the legislative and judicial power. However, all these forecasts, although correctly pointing to the most important political processes, are based on a misunderstanding of the fundamental reasons for the appearance and so long existence of Erdogan's political power.

Undoubtedly, it was the economic successes of the Justice and Development Party that facilitated the adoption of a moderately conservative political force among the Turkish population in early 2002. Improvement of key economic indicators, for example GDP per capita, which grew from $ 3,660 (in 2002) to more than $ 11,000 (in 2018), it became a pledge that the growing middle class of the country increasingly associated its future with the political future of Erdogan's party.

In the framework of the economic approaches to long-term macroeconomic development that continued from the 2000s, the Turkish authorities gradually introduced measures aimed at reducing the role of the state in economic processes. The principles of the neoliberal economy assumed active measures for the opening of Turkey to the world through stimulating the external trade and an active attraction of foreign capital.

The main attention of state bodies in the matter of social security for all 16 years was limited only to the poorest layers. State investments actively went into the development of infrastructure and the construction of mega-projects. At the same time, considering the need to restructure the labor market and adapt it to the conditions of a globalizing economy, the government actively suppressed an oppositional trade union movement.

Of course, the processes of globalization and the implementation of neo-liberal economic development repetitions have never been painless. With the growth in the number of opportunities and the diminishing role of the state in the issue of a more equitable distribution of incomes, inequality has grown in Turkey, with more and more often the supporters of the ruling party from the direct environment of Erdogan appear among the new-nouveaux riches of Turkey. The national economy has become increasingly dependent on the global market environment, while the bulk of the Turkish population now had to rely only on their own forces in the matter of social guarantees.

The Turkish model of neoliberal development deserves attention due to the fact that the ruling forces and their supporters among citizens, direct beneficiaries of economic reforms, actively promoted a fairly authoritarian model of political management. The logic of political formations of recent years consisted in building in Turkey, on the one hand, an effectively functioning state apparatus with a clear vertical system for implementing the reform program determined by the president. On the other hand, political reforms were aimed at suppressing any political opposition that could slow the continuation of the neoliberal reforms in the country.

Accordingly, the Turkish authorities have always been ready to act against politically dissenting people where protests could have a negative impact on business. In order to prevent the emergence of foci of opposition within the bureaucracy, there is a process of politicization of state bodies, where government supporters are appointed to the governing bodies. There are also attempts to limit the opposition of the courts and parliament: the authorities carefully control the process of appointing and training judicial personnel, while the parliament is forced to act in extremely disadvantageous framework.

The most interesting element of Turkish political development is that political authorities, controlling the public information space, prefer to limit public discussions exclusively to political topics. It is obvious that the main motivation of Erdogan and his supporters in the parliament is to stimulate the development of the national economy, using all the benefits of globalization to strengthen its own power. Therefore it is logical to assume that the opposition should criticize the economic approaches of Erdogan. Despite this, the ruling forces translate all the obsessions into the sphere of confrontation between the secular and conservative Turkey, the populist rhetoric of Erdogan, the mention of foreign conspiracies against Turkey, the plans of the internal enemies to organize another coup.

At the same time, it should be recognized that Erdogan's populism is combined with active measures of support for the state of civil society, namely, that part of it that promotes conservative traditional values. It may seem surprising that this support is combined with attempts to open Turkey to the old world, but it should be taken into account that this combination is the philosophy of the Islamic reformist ideological movement, from which Erdogan and his supporters come: Turkey must take an important place in the world through the saddle of globalization processes this is to preserve its Islamic identity.

The victory of Erdogan and his party means the continuation of the policy of neoliberal reforms. In 2023 a grand celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic is expected. Erdogan clearly indicated in the program of actions "Vision 2023" that he intends to achieve the inclusion of the country in the European Union. Moreover, among the plans there is also Turkey's entry into the 10th most developed economies of the world with an economy of 2 trillion US dollars and with GDP per capita over 25 thousand dollars. Turkey should increasingly trade with the world: the volume of exports should reach $ 500 billion. Such ambitious goals mean that Erdogan, having obtained the people's mandate for the presidency for the next five years, does not intend to waste energy and time on conducting a dialogue with the political opposition. Nor did Erdogan have any special incentives for dialogue: the parliament, with the adoption of the new constitution, has not ceased to be a political institution, to which one must listen.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue clarifies political future of Erdogan

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey remained tense until the end. Numerous forecasts pointed to the possible victory of Erdogan only in the second round, while the opposition was to take the parliament. The voting results surprised many. While Erdogan could get 52% of the votes already in the first round, then the coalition of the ruling Justice and Development Party and nationalists won a confident majority of 53%, leaving the opposition far behind.

The main surprise of the parliamentary race was unexpectedly good performance of Erdogan's allies - the National Action Party (MHP): instead of the expected 3-5%, extreme right-wing nationalists were able to get 11%. Among the reasons for such a developed difference between the forecasts and real successes of nationalists is the dominance of the topic of the Kurdish issue during the pre-election race. It is known that many Turkish nationalists were unhappy with the flirting of the main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) and its candidate for President Muharram Inge with the Kurdish electorate. Together with the problem of terrorism and the threat of the establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria, the discontent of a significant number of right-wing electorates migrated to the camp of Erdogan's supporters.

The election results will have a very significant impact on state policy in resolving the Kurdish issue. 

First, as the nature of the election campaign showed, the number of supporters of precisely tough measures to resolve the issue related to Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and the region is growing in society. It is proposed, in particular, to continue military operations in the country and on the borders of Turkey against the elements of the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Secondly, among the supporters of a stricter course on the Kurdish issue are many representatives of the security forces, especially officers in the armed forces of the country. This is important to take into account, since, on the one hand, the members of the right-wing MHP must enter the cabinet of the new government, and it is already known that they intend to get the relevant ministries, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. On the other hand, considering the politicization of the army and the growing influence of political ideas among middle-level officers, the forthcoming government will be more inclined to listen to radical circles in the army in the matter of fighting the PKK.

Kurds, even if they are divided along ideological lines, demonstrate an extremely high degree of cohesion and preparation for political struggle.

Finally, as elections show, the ruling forces will not be able to ignore the problem, because the demographically Kurdish minority is gaining influence: as a rule, Kurdish families have on average more children than ethnic Turks. On the other hand, the Kurds, even if they are divided along ideological lines, demonstrate an extremely high degree of cohesion and preparation for political struggle. The Kurdish Party of Democracy of Peoples, even despite the arrests of many of its members over the past 4 years and the attempts of the state bureaucracy to restrict the Party's activities in the field, once again managed to overcome the electoral threshold, becoming the third largest party in Turkey by the number of votes.

The solution of the Kurdish issue is important not only for domestic political stability in Turkey as such. For a long time, it was the Kurdish question, incl. Ankara's struggle with the Kurdistan Workers' Party complicated Turkey's relations with the West. So, for the EU, the fight against terrorism of the PKK must begin with positive measures in the field of human rights and freedoms, in other words, if the Kurdish minority feels like citizens of the country, it will not be motivated to support terrorists. 

Ankara insists that without security it is impossible to invest in the backward regions of the east of the country where the Kurds live. Economic backwardness, in turn, makes any positive measures in the political field meaningless.

Relations with the West are burdened by the fact that both the EU and the US have different views on the activities of the PKK outside Turkey. Despite the fact that both Brussels and Washington consider the PKK a terrorist organization, PKK activists often hold demonstrations in European cities where the Kurdish diaspora lives, besides, activists of the organization manage to raise funds and recruit new members. At the same time, the United States closely cooperates in Syria with the local branch of the PKK - the Party of the Democratic Union. Moreover, cooperation involves the transfer of certain types of weapons. Ankara has been trying for years to explain to American colleagues that the weapons handed over to them will sooner or later be used against Turkish soldiers.

Finally, it is the Kurdish issue and the threat of the creation of a Kurdish state that makes Ankara conduct a dialogue with Iraq and Iran. The threat of destabilization of the southern borders and the penetration of the PKK fighters hardened by long-term battles from Syria forces Ankara to think more and more often of the need to start a limited dialogue with Damascus: it is the Syrian government that can be a real partner against the cooperation of the US and the Syrian Kurds of the PKK.

In the period from 2009-2013, Erdogan's team tried to solve the Kurdish issue on the basis of creating a positive agenda. The idea was to rethink the principle of the citizenship of the Kurds and Turks: the authorities tried to promote some new identity based on Islamic solidarity between the Turks and Kurds, they say, as Muslims they must live in peace and good-neighbourliness. 

In addition, the authorities attempted to engage in dialogue with the Kurdish minority through local religious leaders, the intelligentsia and tribal sheikhs, thereby attempting to deprive the PKK of legitimacy as one of the most popular political forces among the Kurds. All attempts, however, were defeated with the growth of instability in Syria, where the PKK began to gain influence on the ground, having gained the opportunity to build its quasi-state on the wreckage of the Syrian.

The likelihood of a return to peaceful and political dialogue is extremely low today. The election results show that the government will be inclined to take a tougher stance on the Kurdish issue. On the one hand, Erdogan will strengthen control over the state apparatus, including security forces, under the new system, on the other hand, the ruling party should listen to the extreme right-wing nationalists, thanks to whom Erdogan will control the parliament. All these factors indicate that for the next five years the Kurdish issue will remain an acute problem and a source of political instability.


Will Turkish state survive Erdogan's presidency?

In Turkey, an electoral race for the presidency and seats in the parliament is in full swing. Results of June 24 election will predetermine how Turkey is going to develop in the next 5 years already under new constitution. For the ruling party, current elections are especially important: Turkey must pass to the presidential system of governance. According to all calculations, if not in the first round, current president of the country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is bound to become the next head of state.

In the new system, the executive branch headed by Erdogan will have more opportunities for further reforms. These opportunities are due to the limited influence of the parliament on presidency, the remaining instruments of influence would require extraordinary measures from the legislature, for example, cooperation of parties to initiate a vote of no confidence, which in practice is impossible because of deep disagreements between political forces and social polarization.

Another source of new opportunities for Erdogan lies in the process of further politicization of state bodies and institutions, where politically loyal bureaucrats are appointed and well-designed cadre policy is pursued. These measures are aimed at building a managed state headed by the president. The politicization of institutions has the opposite side as well.

The negative effects of the current processes in the Turkish bureaucracy are already giving enough causes for concern. The Turkish lira lost 60% of its value over the past five years, and the aggregate foreign debt has reached $453 billion. Former head of the Central Bank of Turkey Durmush Yilmaz notes that officials since 2013 have been conducting an incorrect economic policy for political reasons. Relevant officials are pressured by the government, who appoints people who are not worthy but who are loyal to the president, to think politically rather than economically. 

Problems in the state bureaucracy are not limited to the economic sphere alone. Traditionally, an important political player - Turkish security forces, too, demonstrate the symptoms of professional degradation. The primary reason is all the same - wide spread politicization. For instance, in one of his pre-election speeches, Erdogan admitted that the country's intelligence agencies monitor rallies of opposition parties and compile reports on the political preferences of citizens participating in the events. Another example of the above process was the participation of Commander of the Second Field Army of Turkey Metin Temel in one of the political events, where the general openly expressed his sympathy for Erdogan's critical remarks directed against other presidential candidates.

The roll of the system of relations between state bodies towards the post of head of state has negative consequences for Turkey's foreign policy too. Thus, the diplomatic resources of the Turkish state are used, for example, to propagate during the elections in favor of Erdogan's party: Turkish consulates, having a database of Turkish citizens abroad, cooperate with local offices of the ruling party of Turkey and help them in the targeted distribution of materials, leaflets and letters .

Religious and cultural structures of Turkey are also under attack. In May of this year, it became known about the decision of local authorities in Germany to limit cooperation with the largest religious organization of the Turkish diaspora because of suspicions of the body's close cooperation with Ankara, which goes beyond the law and bilateral agreements. The imams appointed under the deal between Turkey and Germany are suspected of working for Turkish intelligence. It is alleged that religious leaders have been collection information about political opponents and vocal critics of the Turkish government.

It can be assumed that the system of checks and balances between the main branches of power in Turkey is a guarantee against such abuses. However, as the events of recent years have shown, judicial supervision and parliamentary control ceased to be effective instruments for limiting executive power. In the first days after the failed coup of undemocratic forces, Erdogan's government, instead of strengthening the independence of the judiciary and increasing the transparency of personnel appointments in the country's highest courts, began to actively replace the loyalists suspected of supporting coup plotters.

The result of the politicization of the third power was not only a drop in people's trust in the country's judicial system. The most dangerous for the democratic process is that the executive power has been able to suppress judicial initiatives in cases when there are serious violations of constitutional legislation. On the other hand, the political opposition is losing hope for the success of the struggle for power within the framework of democratic process.

The politicization of the Turkish bureaucracy is a direct consequence of the centralization of political control in the hands of a president. Considering that the new constitution promoted by Erdogan's supporters provides for an even greater strengthening of the role of the head of state, it can be argued that this process is part of the deliberate and conscious policy of the ruling party. Consolidation of power should lead to greater controllability of the state bureaucracy. In turn, manageability would be the basis of political stability necessary for carrying out ambitious economic reforms, argue supporters of such policies.

However, as shown by the above examples, the actions of the bureaucracy, which thinks in the political interests of certain power circles, may not always lead to an optimal outcome that is beneficial from the point of view of Turkey's national interests. Finally, politicization is fraught with increasing risks in case the authorities make wrong decisions and if they are persistent in their implementation despite resistance from legal political opposition.


Turkey's new security concept may lead to a dialogue with Damascus

The pre-election race in Turkey is traditionally held in very difficult foreign policy conditions. The problems of terrorism and political instability in neighboring countries are the most discussed topics of recent years. It is not surprising that the military operation of the Turkish special forces in northern Iraq, conducted since March, became the subject of election propaganda of political forces. However, closer examination of Turkey's anti-terrorism concept of security shows that operations in Iraq sooner or later must end with the introduction of Turkish troops into Syria and the taking of an extensive zone along the Syrian-Turkish border under the control of Ankara.

The results of the upcoming June 24 elections are extremely important for the ruling party of Turkey and its undisputed leader, the current president of the country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From the distribution of votes will directly depend on how the process of transition to the presidential form of government will go. However, only a few in the country believe that Erdogan can lose the presidential race. The politician and his supporters most popular over the past few years are afraid for the fate of the party led by Erdogan: according to opinion polls, the opposition has real chances to win a majority in the Parliament, thereby gaining the opportunity to significantly complicate Erdogan's life for the next five years.

It is in this atmosphere of uncertainty about its own chances of gaining control of the parliament that the Justice and Development Party is actively bombarding citizens with reports of the success of the military operation in northern Iraq against elements of the Turkish terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). On the other hand, the official media do not cease to remind us of the great significance of Turkish control over the region of the mountain chain of the Kandil mountains: on the territory of 2500-3000 sq.km since 1992, the PKK has deployed more than 50 camps for various purposes, thus turning the hard-to-reach mountain range into a protected bastion and a shelter for the organization's top command.

Against the backdrop of increased attention to the operation in Iraq and the continuing complex race for parliamentary seats, there is an increasing assertion that Erdogan is once again using the country's foreign policy in its domestic political interests, namely, trying to win additional votes among the nationalists - the most significant segment of the Turkish voters. For this electorate, a new and promising "Good Party" Meral Akshener fights as well. It was this party in its program that pointed to the need for more active counteraction to terrorism, while criticizing Erdogan's foreign policy mistakes, which was forced to negotiate with Russia and the United States on fighting Syrian Kurds. The opposition also suspects the authorities of wanting to repeat the experience of the operation in Africa, during which the ruling party could increase its popularity and, having influenced a significant number of voters, prepare the population for the idea of ​​possible early elections not in 2019, but in the summer of 2018.

Nevertheless, many experts note that the operation, although it may have an indirect relation to the elections and the desire of the government to gain additional points, is caused by objective reasons and is part of the new concept of combating terrorism. In particular, it is noted that the first reports on Ankara's plans to deploy special forces in northern Iraq began to appear in December 2017, and in March 2018 the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces announced the construction of new advanced bases in the Kandil region. The decision on early elections was announced by the Turkish authorities only in April, that is, when the operation was already in full swing.

On the other hand, it is noted that the operation in Iraq was held in parallel with the very difficult negotiations with the US leadership for the US military and political support for the fighters of the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Party of the Democratic Union. The role of the United States in the actions of Turkey in Iraq is to provide intelligence: Given the huge area of ​​the territory, the possession of accurate data on the location of the main logistics points of the PKK greatly facilitates the tasks of the limited Turkish contingent. Obviously, US assistance became part of bargaining with Turkey around the Syrian city of Manbij, against which a "soft" road map was adopted. According to the agreements within 6 months, the city of the PYD will leave the city, and the Turkish army will have the opportunity to monitor the situation in the area.

Turkey's actions in Iraq and Syria show a certain logic. The main idea is the proactive diplomatic position of Ankara in the issue of the PKK in neighboring countries combined with military operations along the entire Turkish border. On the one hand, as the actions of the Turkish army in Syrian Africa and Iraqi Sinjar and Qandil show, Ankara aims to secure the entire border, which also includes areas under the control of the PYD and the United States. On the other hand, since 2015, Turkey is building new ones and strengthening existing military bases in controlled border areas, even despite the objections of local authorities.

It is obvious that Turkey's struggle with the elements of the PKK in Iraq and Syria will not cease after the presidential and parliamentary elections. The existence of quasi-state structures on the territory of Syria compels Turkey to seek ways of pressure on the US, under whose military control are the elements of the PKK on the Turkish border. It should be borne in mind that if the ruling party wins, future cabinet will include extreme nationalists from the National Action Party, the main ally of Erdogan. It is the MHP that expresses certain circles in the security agencies of the country, wishing to extend the zone of operation to the remaining section of the Syrian border, i. throwing a direct challenge to US interests.

The role of Russia in this situation can be to create conditions acceptable for Ankara and Damascus, under which army structures could coordinate their actions in northern Syria. After all, as noted, because of the unwillingness of the US to meet the Turkish leadership, it is the position of the Syrian authorities that becomes the decisive factor for Turkish diplomacy for an independent action. The cooperation between Turkey, Syria and Russia in the issue of countering the PKK can be based, on the one hand, on the already existing Turkish-Syrian agreements on fighting the PKK. On the other hand, the Syrian side can also be connected to the mechanism of Russian-Turkish cooperation on the cleansing of Syrian territories from elements of the PKK, especially in areas under Kurdish control, where the Syrian authorities still have a significant presence.