Turkey’s Post-Election Domestic and Foreign Political Landscape

31 October 2023 –  Bahadır Çelebi

Five months have passed since the elections, in which Erdoğan won the presidency again and secured the opportunity to continue in power for another five years. This five-month period provides us with some data to analyze Turkey’s post-election political process.

First, it is important to underline that the most frightening pre-election scenarios for the economy did not materialize. Erdoğan abandoned the irrational monetary policy he had pursued in the pre-election period and ended the interest rate cut process. The two most prominent figures in this new economic policy are Mehmet Şimşek, who was appointed as economy minister, and Gaye Erkan, who was appointed as central bank governor.

When these two took office after the elections, the central bank policy rate was 8.5 percent, increasing to 35 percent. This increase in the interest rates means a serious step is taken to fight high inflation. However, neither the fact that these two names are credible economists nor the lowering of interest rates to levels more in line with the free market has been enough for Turkey to attract the planned capital flow from the West.

The main reason for this is that Erdogan, with the crucial powers he gained in the 2017 referendum, combined with his unchallenged political power, can at any moment -as he did before the elections- reverse decisions regarding the economy by 180 degrees.

These presidential powers in Erdogan’s hands reduce Turkey’s institutional capacity and leave decision-making solely in his hands, preventing him from providing sufficient confidence to capital coming to the country with long-term investment plans.

The economic crisis, which manifested itself as high inflation before the election, has not improved in the last five months, contrary to the positive expectations of Erdoğan voters. Continuing economic problems seem to reduce Erdoğan voters’ support for the government in the current period.

However, the decline in support for the government does not necessarily translate into developments favorable to the opposition due to the chaos in the political opposition. The opposition bloc led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who suffered a major defeat in the elections, has not been able to make a serious self-criticism. In addition, despite the reactions from large segments of the public and from within the main opposition party, CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu refuses to give up his chairmanship.

Therefore, not only the main opposition party but the entire political opposition is unable to offer a serious alternative to solve the country’s problems. As a result, Turkish society has largely lost interest and hope in politics.

While all these negativities are taking place in domestic politics in foreign policy, the foreign policy preferences that were framed in the past along Islamist lines have been abandoned. Developments such as Erdoğan’s appointment of Hakan Fidan as foreign minister after the elections, his positive attitude toward Sweden’s NATO membership, and his efforts to improve relations with the Arab world and Israel were interpreted as signs that Erdoğan’s government would move towards a more pro-Western policy, partly due to the pressure of the economic situation.

The diminishing prospects of a short-term Russian victory in the Ukraine War was probably an additional motivation for the Erdoğan government to improve its multilateral relations with the West in the post-election period, more in line with traditional Turkish foreign policy.

However, with the shocking Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023, it is difficult to predict at the moment what changes will take place in Turkey’s post-election foreign policy, which is more aligned with the West and generally more moderate.

While Erdoğan signaled a more balanced policy immediately after the Hamas attack by calling on the warring parties to show de-escalation, he also signaled that he might veer towards an Islamist line by emphasizing that Hamas is not a terrorist organization in his speech on October 25, 2023.

With Israel’s continued bombardment of Gaza and the deaths of many Palestinian civilians, especially children, Erdogan has been subjected to public pressure from religious conservatives. Erdoğan’s desire to maintain his image as a religious leader in the Islamic world also supports his positioning in the anti-Israel camp in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

It is not yet clear exactly how the Erdogan government will respond to the Israel-Hamas conflict and the related international relations issues. However, Turkey’s prominence as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not accepted by the parties involved. In this situation, it seems more functional for Erdoğan to produce pro-Palestinian rhetoric that will be more useful for his government in domestic politics.

In the past five months, there have been signs of change in the economy and foreign policy. However, certain domestic and foreign circumstances risk a return to some of Erdoğan’s old policies, which contain Islamist elements and are more in line with his ideology.