Turkish elections: new direction in foreign policy

Turkey flagsDespite receiving the greatest number of votes in the election, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win an outright majority after 13 years in power. So far there is one clear outcome: Turks have decided to remain a parliamentary democracy and buried President Erdoğan’s dreams of a Presidential system. One of the clear winners of this election has been the pro-Kurdish HDP, which comfortably passed the 10% election threshold by transforming itself from its traditional pro-Kurdish nationalist line to a party embracing everyone in Turkey. While the next government configuration is still unclear, we can already see the results’ implications for Turkey’s foreign policy.

The Middle East

This is one policy area where significant change is expected. Under all coalition scenarios, the seemingly over-interventionist foreign policy approach in recent years will be replaced by a more pragmatic approach. The Kemalist CHP, the nationalist MHP and pro-Kurdish HDP are all expected to want to normalise strained relations with Egypt and Syria. The real question is what kind of a balance will be struck between priorities of HDP and MHP with regard to Iraq and Syria. Israel will be a more tricky country to deal with, as public animosity towards the Jewish State has significantly increased over the last few years. However even on that front, we can expect a return to factory settings (i.e. amelioration of diplomatic relations).

The European Union

Don’t expect any major break-through with the accession talks. Since the Gezi protests two years ago, Brussels has been increasingly critical of AKP’s and President Erdoğan’s track record on human rights and fundamental freedoms. However a curb on AKP’s power will not shift EU’s stance towards Turkey’s EU accession. The main obstacle – the Cyprus issue – still remains unresolved despite some very positive developments in the recent weeks. Let’s also not forget that the EU has been suffering from enlargement fatigue and that the Juncker Commission made it clear that there will be no more enlargement in the next five years. No matter how positively the election results have been received by the EU, they are not likely to change current policy on enlargement.

The US

No major change in Ankara-Washington relations. It’s safe to expect greater alignment on Syria policy, particularly in efforts to prioritise combatting ISIS.

Without a new government in place, it is still too early to predict specifics of Turkey’s foreign policy direction. However, it is safe to say that no matter what the configuration, a coalition government will be taking into account more considerations and refrain from over-interventionist policies, particularly in the Middle East. Similarly, we can also expect a change in the style of engagement. The harsh tone we have witnessed at times is likely to tone down and pave the way to more productive dialogues.

  % of votes Seats
AKP 40.91 258
CHP 24.78 131
MHP 16.26 80
HDP 13.43 81

 

Key figures from the 2015 Parliamentary elections
Number of seats in the parliament: 550
Election threshold: 10%
Number of votes to form a government: Absolute majority of those present
Number of votes for a no-confidence vote: Absolute majority of the total number of members (276 or more)
Number of votes to change the constitution: 330 or more

 

Aylin Diriöz Fastenau is senior consultant in FTI Consulting’s energy team in Brussels.

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