The 24th of June elections have introduced to Turkey a new constitution, a powerful President and a renewed alliance in the parliament (Türk Büyük Millet Meclisi). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has achieved his goal of becoming the first popularly elected executive president with a wide range of powers, including an exclusive right to policy-making and the right to exceed the parliament’s legislative mandate, effectively cancelling the separation of powers doctrine that has been the basis of Turkey’s –now defunct- political system. He also controls the parliament, through the “People’s Alliance”, which is AKP’s alliance to the nationalist MHP.
This new order however, will not provide the President and the AKP with a ‘blank page’ starting point, since state continuity is fundamental for a state’s identity both in the international and the local level, and as such, the new government, will need to address the country’s numerous pressing issues, focusing in the economy, in its foreign policy -especially its relations to the west- and the Kurdish issue. Policy-making will not be as easy for the Turkish president as his victory on both elections would suggest, since he will need to balance his views on Turkey’s orientation with the nationalist sentiment that has become a fundamental element of his electoral dominance since the June 2015 AKP failure to secure absolute majority.
Erdoğan’s win is not just about the current elections, but it should be viewed as a systemic overhaul of Turkey’s political system that the AKP has been debating as early as 2011. It included a number of calculated risks and it aims to the very roots of the Turkish society, as this was shaped from 1923 onwards; a society that has been becoming politically and culturally polarized, in an accelerated pace within the last 10 years.
The AKP-MHP alliance is bound to shrink Erdoğan’s room for political manoeuvring, regarding the Kurdish issue, both domestically and internationally, but will also play a fundamental role in Turkey’s foreign policy; the AKP’s nationalist spike in the last 6 months prior to the June elections, was the climax to its 2015 nationalist shift, that was related to the collapse of the Peace Process with the PKK. President Erdoğan used nationalism as a tool to consolidate his influence within the nationalist voters, but he also had to concede to a substantial rise in MHP influence within the AKP’s ideological core.
Another important element is the Turkish society’s anti-Americanism that dates back to the 1960s, which has also been part and parcel of Erdoğan’s foreign policy propaganda, related to a number of issues that Washington and Ankara have clear disagreements, such the US support for Syria’s Kurds, Fethullah Gülen’s presence in US soil, Turkey’s increased dealings with Russia, specifically the ones related to military systems, or Washington’s accusations of state owned Halk Bank’s violations of Iran sanctions, to name but a few.
It is very likely that MHP influence will make Turkey’s foreign policy much more rigid, as nationalism, anti-Americanism and the party’s suspicion of internationalism have been for decades MHP’s raison d’être. In such a case, one realizes that Turkey’s relationship with the US and with Europe will become more complicated; so will bilateral issues, such as the Greek-Turkish disputes in the Aegean Sea, or the Cyprus issue and its complications . President Erdoğan will not have a lot of leeway in dealing with national issues and foreign relations, as he will need to foster MHP’s ideological approach, something that will cause consequences to Turkey’s relations with its global and regional partners.
Erdoğan himself has stated in his electoral manifesto that he will follow a realist approach, taking for granted that there are more than one global powers in the world today. National security concerns will play a central role in his foreign policy-making, and so will suspicion on the role of the West on issues like the PKK, the YPG and Fethullah Gülen. This is a rather conservative narrative that the Turkish president is adopting, also supported by the MHP, moving Turkey away from Davutoğlu’s idealist “zero problems with neighbours”. What is becoming clear, is that nationalism seems to have replaced religion as the driving force within AKP’s ‘religious nationalism’ ideological context.
Turkey is becoming more conservative and is drifting away from the West, as a result of MHP influence but also due to Erdoğan’s new approach. However, one can’t predict whether the Turkish president -and to what extent- will push Turkey’s relations with the United States and Europe against the wall. One can’t also predict how will Erdoğan’s very commanding and potent political persona, will ride out a potentially uncompromising MHP. What seems to be certain, is that the Turkish foreign policy is set to take a conservative turn.