Avoiding the perfect storm

Avoiding the perfect storm

Turkey’s AK Party spokesman Omer Celik said Monday that the government is mulling bringing elections “slightly” forward (the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to be held on June 18), a decision which could have implications for Greece. Reports in the local press say that elections are likely to be held on April 30 or May 14, effectively around the time of Greece’s national election, which is expected to take place on April 9 with a second round, if necessary, in mid-May. 

Meanwhile, tensions in Greek-Turkish relations remain high. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently warned that an expansion of territorial waters to 12 miles around the island of Crete would be a cause for war (casus belli). For his part, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that he considers recent visits made by Greek officials to the islands near the Turkish coast a provocation.

The combination of bilateral tensions and pre-election fever on both sides of the Aegean could push the temperature into the danger zone – even more so given the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is polling behind Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). However, Erdogan knows that what is at stake in the upcoming elections is nothing less than his political survival. During his two-decade rule, the Turkish strongman has been repeatedly accused of corruption; a defeat could land him, as well as his family, in prison.

With record-breaking inflation rates, the Turkish lira slipping to its lowest levels against the dollar and the government’s plummeting popularity due to the economy’s woes, Erdogan will most likely play the nationalist card to rally voters. And, if he feels the need, he may try a more extreme scenario: a Syria invasion to crack down on Kurdish militants and/or a military incident in the Aegean.

In light of the above, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis must take all the necessary steps to avoid what could be a perfect storm: Greece must not have a caretaker administration during a period when Erdogan would be tempted to pursue a repeat of the 1996 Imia crisis. The conservative leader must adapt his plans so that Greek elections are not held in April-May and are pushed back near the end of his government’s term, in June-July.

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