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posted on 25 October 2015

Turkish Elections - The Impossibility Of Chaos In Turkey

from LEAP/Europe 2020,

We have repeatedly analyzed that only the regional powers would be able to restore calm in the Middle East and resolve the Daesh issue, the common enemy on which (almost) everyone has agreed. However, we have stated that the US or Russian interventions would only have the effect of exacerbating tensions.

Repeatedly missed opportunities

Suffice it to say that the recent developments, setting the stage for a US/Russian confrontation in the Middle East, are not a move in the right direction. And we have also identified the Iranian Shi'ites and Turkish Sunnis, the only two democracies in the region (imperfect certainly - like all of us moreover - but assessed in the terms of the rest of the region), as the only possible legitimate alliance and guarantors of the region's multi-confessionalism.

Ideally, Egypt should add itself to this alliance (this is the role that the Egyptians' courageous fight during the Arab spring should have allowed them to play) and thus, in a minor role, Israel (which would have been made possible by Herzog's election instead of Netanyahu during the last elections [1]).

All the conditions would then have been met for a democratic and multi-confessional reorganization of the region. Egypt [2] and Israel [3] have been permanently eliminated from playing a positive role and the chances of a transition out of the crisis have been greatly reduced.

Iran, on the other hand, has been placed on parole and is beginning to rediscover the regional role which is incumbent upon it. That said, this country is under attack on two fronts (the Yemen and Syria) and its "parole" means that it doesn't always have a free hand to defend its interests and those of its allies.

Finally, Turkey now finds itself in indescribable chaos [4] and apparently really unable to play the slightest independent role in the region.

Saudi Arabia vs Iran

As a regional power, Saudi Arabia therefore seems to be the only one on board, a scenario which takes us far away from any prospect of an open, democratic and multi-confessional Middle East - despite the mad convergence, totally unnatural, between it and Netanyahu's Israel [5] .

That said, another scenario is being put in place at the moment, not much more exciting, around Iran and its weak allies - Syria and Iraq, supported by Russia [6], the "losers" direction for some. Multi-confessionalism undoubtedly isn't a major part of the future programme proposed by this group of countries and the Russian sponsor certainly isn't guarantor of the sustainability of the solutions which could be established if the group stays.

Turkey's « central » position

Now, the only "future having a future" really rests on an alliance between Iran and Turkey. Therefore, everything plays out around what happens in Turkey, during the parliamentary "re-election" [7] on the 1st November.

Whichever way one looks at it, Turkey is central, in general, and in this crisis in particular. It has the characteristic especially of being NATO's second army in troop size, so interest is focused around its political orientations, and for a long time.

fig 1Figure 1 - Turkey's central position. Source : Ali Velshi.

When Erdogan came to the power through the ballot box in 2013, he questioned the military tutelage under which the country had lived for decades [8], consequently distancing his country from Western influence. The request for EU membership became formal and not really intended. The priority shifted to the balanced relations between this so "well" surrounded country's innumerable and powerful neighbours including Bashar al-Assad's Syria[9] and Iran [10]. The democratic process hasn't been questioned, but it turns out that in this region, at this time, democracy is synonymous with Islam. Another priority for Erdogan, in connection with the country's reduction in military power, was to initiate a peace process with the Kurds [11]. While tracing the path that Erdogan's Turkey followed until 2011, we can see the extent to which the Syrian crisis has weakened the country in the pursuit of its project.

Derailment of Erdogan's policies

From our team's point of view, Erdogan has made a big mistake: trusting the West that Bashar al-Assad would be quickly eliminated and, in a mix of realpolitik and ideological temptation (an ideology less Islamic than democratic in our opinion), betting on the expected replacements by supporting the Free Syrian Army.

A problem: the West obviously didn't have the means to back up their policies. And four years later, Bashar al-Assad is still there, but the situation has degenerated far beyond expectations, to a great extent now overflowing into the whole region and henceforth Europe, through this influx of refugees [12].

In four years, Erdogan's policies have become illegible and incoherent, and Turkey finds itself on the edge of an economic [13], social, political and geopolitical abyss... about to implode [14].

In a scenario which is the most likely to happen, the AKP won't recover its Parliamentary majority or form a coalition and the country will remain politically paralyzed, right in the middle of a multi-front crisis.

Given the fact that no one intends seeing Turkey take the same path as Libya or Iraq, we anticipate that the military will not hesitate to bring order to the country if the November elections result in a further impossibility of forging any sort of coalition and give the least coherent direction to the country again.

This is the most likely scenario, which everyone is expecting, that which many in the Western camp are counting on, in reality, that which is filling our newspapers' pages. That said our readers now know our inclination to show other paths.

The military or Erdogan, again

The other possible scenario, little mentioned in the daily press would be that Erdogan wins his bet of regaining his parliamentary majority and/or managing to form a coalition which doesn't neutralize all power to act, and retakes control on the implementation of his policies.

The other parties are very far behind Erdogan's AKP. The Kemalist part of the CHP has polled 25%; the Europeans' new darling, the very sympathetic, pro-Kurd, moderate HDP or Syriza Turkish party, only 13%; followed by the ultranationalist and very fascist MHP. Remember that the AKP's "defeat" in the last Parliamentary elections was with 40% of the votes!

fig 2

Figure 2 - Polling results for the Turkish November election. Source : James in Turkey.

Therefore, there is no question the 1st of November of seeing a real alternative to Erdogan emerging, but really of knowing if the current leader has regained control for implementing his policies or if there will be renewed government paralysis whilst the country sinks into chaos, requiring army intervention.

But assuming that Erdogan manages to regain control, what will be his policies? The indications that he has already given, clearly indicate a return to the policy of independence, which he inaugurated in 2003:

. distancing from the US: relations with the US became strained when the latter parachuted heavy weapons to the anti-Bashar rebels, among which there were pro-PKK troops of the PYD [15], as part of their proxy war against Russia [16];

. rebalancing in Russia's favour which he visited recently, and opening up to Iran [17];

. an easing of the policy towards Bashar: Erdogan recently declared himself in favour of the establishment of an interim Syrian government including Bashar el-Assad [18] as long as that doesn't act as a legitimization of the Syrian regime [19].

This last condition is important, because it makes Turkey the guarantor of the compromise between the Russian and American positions: that the cooperation with Bashar el-Assad proposed by Russia to restore peace in Syria and in the region (henceforth the primary objective for the Europeans who want nothing more than the flux of refugees to stop) doesn't signify the preservation of Bashar el-Assad at the head of the Syrian regime.

All this evokes a scenario quite similar to that which we have mentioned, today taken up by Trend magazine, which has inked a courageous article on the inevitability of a Turkish-Russian-Iranian alliance [20].

With all that, it's not surprising that the NATO boss, Stollenberg, has redoubled massaging Turkey with promises of military support in case of a conflict with Russia [21], promises which are certainly addressed to the Turkish military apparatus rather than Erdogan, hinting more or less at a preliminary coup d'état.

The scenario of a strengthening of Erdogan's position at the head of the Turkish government doesn't seem the most likely in the current explosion of combat zones. In what conditions will the election take place? Will it occur at all? Currently, anything is possible.

But the balance of forces in the region has changed dramatically in one month with Russia's entry into the game, and with Europe's turnaround on the objective of Bashar el-Assad's elimination, as a priority in terms of the management of the Syrian crisis. Moreover, it's interesting to note that Merkel and Erdogan both expressed their change of course on this subject the same day [22].

In any case, it's to be understood that the Turkish elections on 1st of November are to be followed really carefully. A return to order will follow, but it could be wearing a very different face...

[1] See previous GEAB issues.

[2] As regards Egypt, the visits/meetings between Putin and Al-Sissi some time ago led us to anticipate that in the case of asuccessful Russian policy in the Middle East, some repositioning could really occur there. Source : Le Figaro, 10/02/2015

[3] On the other hand, Israel is well and truly locked into an increasingly militarized view of the region. Source : World Tribune, 13/10/2015

[4] To better understand the situation's complexities, we recommend this France Info article. Source :FranceInfo, 14/10/2015

[5] At the time, we commented at length on Israel's future in such a Middle East. But we now assume that the major strategies at work in Tel Aviv are really counting on the fact that once the complexities of the Middle East are eliminated, firepower can then be focused on Saudi Arabia itself, in a supposed huge pandemonium allowing the Middle East's major reconfiguration. In fact, it's likely that Saudi Arabia is next on the list, as soon as Iran has been permanently weakened through Bashar al-Assad's elimination, the NATO-ization of Turkey, Egypt's neutralization by dictatorship, the emergence of a large Kurdistan (which won't be really nice if one believes Amnesty) and the provincialization of everything else. All under the tutelage of a "West" reaffirmed in its supremacy. This scenario, which will unfold with millions of dead and tens of millions of refugees, without counting the extension of the conflict well beyond just one region, unfortunately remains a possibility.

[6] Source : Le Monde, 04/10/2015

[7] Which is what Erdogan calls it; playing on words...

[8] Reduction of the military budget, full power to Parliament to decide on the Army budget allocations from 2003; limitation of the Army's field of intervention limiting the risks of a coup d'état in 2013 (source : Le Figaro, 30/07/2013); government appointment of army chiefs in 2011 (source : BBC, 04/08/2011) appointment of a civilian to head the army.

[9] We have just forgotten that Erdogan supported Bashar al-Assad up to the time of the Arab springs. Source : Ovipot, 15/05/2011

[10] Source : Deutsche Welle, 09/06/2014

[11] Source : IAI, May 2015

[12] So much so that The Guardian, which couldn't be accused of being pro-Putin, has just republished the peace plan put forward by Putin in 2012, a plan which suggested bringing back peace to the country with the help of the regular army, whilst negotiating Bashar al-Assad's honorable exit. This plan was scorned at the time but its reading today gives food for thought: could we have avoided all these deaths, destruction and migrants?Source : The Guardian, 15/09/2015

[13] The national debt now stands at the unsustainable level of $170 billion. For a fix on Turkey's economic situation in the context of these elections, it's worth reading this article in Al-Monitor.Source : Al-Monitor, 12/10/2015

[14] Not to mention that Erdogan's democratization agenda had been postponed until later: the urgency of these last four years being solely to avoid this implosion...

[15] Source : Hürriyet, 14/10/2015

[16] Source : New York Times, 12/10/2015

[17] Source : Today's Zaman, 12/10/2015

[18] Source : Aranews, 25/09/2015

[19] This condition can, of course, be considered hypocritical; but it could also be considered as the guarantee Europe needs to accept.

[20] Source : Trend, 14/10/2015

[21] Source : Reuters, 12/10/2015

[22] Source : Al-Arabiya, 24/10/2015

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