Shifting balances in Turkey
Things are happening in Turkey that are not entirely apparent to the rest of the world. The results of recent local elections which saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose control of Istanbul showed that the Turkish strongman’s star is losing its luster. Meanwhile, there have been some as-yet tentative moves inside the party challenging his authority. All this suggests that Turkey’s domestic policy in the coming years may not be dictated exclusively by Erdogan. It is, of course, too early to talk about Erdogan’s succession, however it is clear that his status as Turkey’s undisputed hegemon is under threat.
This threat is not only a consequence of his foreign policy. This, at least, appears to enjoy broader consensus, as demonstrated by the support of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on the acquisition of the Russian S-400 defense system, which has been a source of friction with Washington. Overall, Erdogan is acting according to the dogma of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, which dictated that the country should make selective use of alliances depending on what interests need to be served at any given time.
The only time Turkey was really part of the Western system was during the Cold War, when Ankara needed the United States and NATO as a counterweight to the Soviet troops along its eastern border. However, even during that period, the Turkish leadership did not hesitate to invade Cyprus, deeming that it would thereby secure the country’s soft underbelly.
However, Erdogan’s domestic policy appears to be leading the Turkish economy into a prolonged deadlock and the country is just a step away from an International Monetary Fund bailout. Standoffs with the United States and the European Union have wider implications for Turkey and this is reflected on inflationary pressures, the rise in unemployment and the devaluation of the Turkish lira.
At the same time, the Islamist agenda of the ruling party is alienating large sections of Turkish society. Regardless of developments in the near future, there are a number of outstanding issues in Turkey. This has a direct effect on Greece, of course, as this new era of uncertainty could usher in unexpected developments. Every transition entails some degree of insecurity.