Erdogan's landslide victory throws cold water on Germany?
Recep Erdogan's resounding success in the Turkish presidential elections was a surprise for many European and, in particular, German experts. Many of them counted on the success of the opposition - hoping, at least, that the opposition candidate Muharrem İnce will take part in the second round of the election. Today, Germany's attitude towards Erdogan is characterized by a barely disguised hatred. A striking example was the recent aggressive campaign by politicians and the media against two players of the German national team, Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundoga, who "dared" to publish a joint photo with the Turkish president on social media.
However, after the last elections, it seems they are reaching a sober moment. There is a growing recognition that Erdogan will not go anywhere from the Turkish political scene and, whether they like it or not, they will have to negotiate with him. The Stiftung Mercator foundation's interview with one of the leading German political analysts, specializing on Turkey, Günter Seufert, a senior researcher at the Stiftung für Wissenschaft und Politik, is noteworthy in this context. Vestnik Kavkaza presents a translation of the interview.
- President Erdogan won an absolute majority already in the first round of voting. Was it unexpected in light of the pre-election polls?
- Yes, it's a surprise. Polls results were controversial, but many believed that there will be a second round of elections. Considering electoral movements, it can be noted that the change in votes occurred mainly in the opposition bloc. The government bloc didn't lose a large number of votes. In this respect, the result of the election was a repetition of the result of the referendum on the introduction of the presidential system held last year.
- What is your view on the reasons for Erdogan's success?
- Conservative, very religious voters are cautious of the opposition alliance, the so-called People's Alliance - they did not trust the Republicans and its main candidate Muharrem İnce. They feared that if he won, they could be discriminated again because of their religious identity. Religious citizens do not want to lose the privileged position that they have under Erdogan's government. Another reason - the election campaign was unfair. The voters had only a limited opportunity to receive information about the presidential race. Erdogan strongly dominated in the media, for example, receiving significantly more airtime. Moreover, taking into account the state of emergency, it was difficult for the opposition to hold its pre-election events. It was not able to it properly.
- What topics were decisive for the voters? The media often stressed the importance of the country's economic situation.
- For that very reason, many researchers were not entirely right with predictions. Economic issues were named as Turkey's biggest problem by voters. The current economic situation is worse than in previous years, there is high unemployment, inflation, currency devaluation. Many experts proceeded from the assumption that the deterioration of the situation would make at least part of the electorate of Erdogan and the AKP to turn away from them.
- Some four million refugees live in Turkey. How did it affected the election campaign?
- The opposition raised this issue, but only on a selective basis. İnce, for example, said that he would immediately establish relations with Syria and president Assad after winning the elections, and thus ensure the return of most of the Syrian refugees to their homeland. The opposition criticizes the government's policy towards Syria, which is the reason for the exodus, but it does not criticize the refugees themselves. They refugees themselves are considered dependent variables within the framework of wrong policies - unlike many European countries, Turkey does not limit this topic to the problem of migration as such.
- How did the government react to the opposition's criticism?
- The AKP also dealt with this issue within the framework of the election campaign, and declared the speedy return of refugees to Syria as its goal. The topic was not decisive in the election campaign, it did not influence political sentiments.
- What do you think Erdogan's course is going to be after his election?
- The answer to this question is of speculative nature. We can say that Erdogan has started his policy of polarization after the loss of the absolute majority in June 2015. The strategy is as follows: he polarizes when he needs it for the election campaign. Now he has a much stronger position in the new presidential system. It can be assumed that he does not need the polarization anymore. Therefore, I suppose that he will deal with real problems now, that is, the foreign policy situation and, in particular, the economic difficulties in the country. I suspect that he will resume his moderate foreign policy. Another aspect is internal problems. I am skeptical that he will change his course in this field. His party alliance secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly. But it depends on the votes of the nationalist MHP, which became the decisive weights on the scales that way.
- What does the elections' result mean for cooperation with the European Union?
- Now much depends on the policy of the EU itself. The political alignment in Turkey is cemented for the coming years. The question is whether the discourse in relations with Turkey will turn from human rights and democratization issues to the issue of cooperation between states with common interests. Turkey and the EU have a number of common interests: working on the causes of migration, close economic ties, Turkey in NATO, as well as cooperation of special services in the fight against jihadist terror. Germany, given its close ties with Turkey, should consider these aspects in the first place and to reflect on its further policy.