July 2, 2018
Turks went to the polls on June 24th to vote for a president and a new parliament. These polls were the first ones after the country transitioned into a presidential system through a referendum held in 2017. While the opposition to Erdogan seemed to regain some of its lost momentum, with the candidacy of Muharrem Ince, from the secularist left-wing CHP, the results were largely in favor of Erdogan. In fact, Erdogan obtained 52.55% of the vote in the presidential election, which obviated the need to hold a second round of elections. His biggest rival, Muharram Ince, ended up with 30.67% of the votes. The Turnout rate was massive: 87%. The results surprised many Turkey experts.
As far as the results of parliamentary vote were concerned, there were also certain surprising outcomes. The AKP lost its parliamentary majority by going down from 49.5% to 42.5%, requiring the party to enter into an alliance to form a government. The most likely alliance is between the AKP and the MHP, the right-wing conservative-nationalist party, which secured 11.13% of the votes, thus passing the 10% threshold required to enter the parliament. The fact that the MHP’s vote share was this high was another element of surprise to observers. Given that Meral Aksener, a former interior minister, had left the MHP to form her own, party, Iyi party, this move was expected to seriously weaken the MHP. Iyi party garnered 10% of the votes only while the vote share of the MHP still enabled it to pass the threshold. There have been different hypotheses about the unexpected rise of the MHP, especially in the Kurdish-populated South-Eastern part of Turkey, which does not hold very favorable views to the MHP. One explanation is that MHP obtained more votes in these areas since quite a lot of security personnel moved there with their families.
Given that Erdogan won the presidential elections handsomely, as the first president of Turkey’s new presidential system, he assumes some high powers conferred to him through the referendum held in 2017. However, there are concerns that checks and balances in Turkey might be further eroded due to the executive powers that Erdogan has now come to assume. Moreover, the elections have also been marred by an extremely uneven playing field. The state TV’s broadcasting was more favorable to Erdogan’s campaign whereas the opposition received scant coverage. Moreover, the vast majority of private media are also owned by the allies of the president, broadcasting material attuned to Erdogan’s campaign. Hence, the opposition had to use other means of communication, especially the social media to reach people.
The challenges lurking on the horizon for Erdogan during his new term will be immense. Turkey’s economic miracle under Erdogan is now running out of steam as the Turkish currency has lost 15% of its value this year alone. There is possibility of recession if the current trends continue given that the country is grappling with rising foreign debt, double-digit inflation, and an insufficient level of foreign direct investment. Moreover, Erdogan also has to grapple with the tension in the predominantly Kurdish-speaking Southeastern part of Turkey. On its foreign relations, increasingly strained relations with the West are another challenge for Erdogan, as Turkey has been increasingly gravitated towards the Russian sphere of influence despite being a member of the NATO.
Turkey-Russia Defense Relations
Turkey’s defense relations with Russia experienced a boost after Ankara’s rapprochement with Moscow following the end of the conflict originating from the shooting of a Russian plane by Turkey over the Syrian border. As Turkey’s relations with the West have also soured due in large part to the tensions between the EU and Turkey as well as the Americans’ collaboration with the Kurds in Northern Syria, Ankara saw in Russia a strategic partner to fill the void. When Germany imposed arms embargo on Turkey for its human rights violations, Turkey announced in December 2017 that it had signed an accord for Moscow to supply Ankara with S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries. The deal, which is worth some $2.5 billion, stipulates the initial delivery for the first quarter of 2020. The deal has created tensions between Ankara and Washington. In part in retaliation to Turkey’s signing of this deal with Russia, the American House of Representatives approved a bill in March 2018 to end the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey, involving more than 100 F-35 jets from Moscow. During Erdogan’s fresh electoral victory, Ankara-Moscow relations are slated to continue unabated.
Turkey-Russia oil Trade and Pipeline Projects
Russia is amongst the top 5 oil exporters to Turkey, while Iran remains number one providing more than half of the country’s needs for oil. Furthermore, Russian oil both to Turkey and parts of Europe is transported through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits in tankers. While there exist three pipelines transporting gas between Russia and Turkey (Blue Stream, Turk Stream, Western Line), Moscow and Ankara have long been broaching the construction of a possible pipeline to transport Russian oil from the coast of Black Sea in Turkey to the Mediterranean. The Samsun-Ceyhan Pipeline was a project that was seriously discussed by both parties. This oil pipeline project aimed to transport oil from northern Turkish port of Samsun on the Black Sea to the Southern Turkish port city of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast, having the capacity of significantly increasing the transfer of Russian oil to the rest of the world while also easing the traffic on the straits in Turkey. The Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline was planned to carry as much as 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. The consortium for the project was comprised of Çalik (Turkish energy company), two Russian energy companies (Transneft and Rosneft) along with the Italian company, Eni. However, the project was cancelled in 2013 since it was deemed to be economically unfeasible.
Vahid Yucesoy for iStrategic