Turkey Election Watch #2 – Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu Foreign Policies Compared
The dual presidential and parliamentary election in Turkey on May 14th has been named the most import election of the year. Why? Because the geopolitical significance (and unpredictability) of Turkey has surged during president Erdogan’s 20 year rule. This fact hasn’t become less true since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Turkey is the guarantor of safe passage for grains export coming out of Ukraine via the black sea. It is also, currently, the only country standing in the way of Sweden joining NATO. But how much of all this would change, if the leader of the opposition coalition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was to seize the presidency after May 14th? We have taken a close look at the election manifestos of the opposition coalition, Nation Alliance and Erdogan’s AK Parti. Comparing excerpts from their election pledges, we give you our analysis of how Kılıçdaroğlu is expected to deviate from Erdogan’s foreign policy course in 4 key areas.
“The ideal is to make Turkey one of the most important actors in the global balance of power and raise it to the position of the decisive country working to establish peace and stability in its region” – AKP
“We will respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the countries in the Middle East. We will not interfere in their internal affairs, and will not “take sides” in the problems between them but “facilitate solutions” – Nation Alliance
Analysis: Western commentators hoping that Kılıçdaroğlu as president means that Turkey will get firmly back into the U.S fold might get gravely disappointed. Turkish nationalism and anti-west sentiment is strong in the Turkish electorate. As a result, both the incumbent and oppositional coalitions show heavy signs of what I call ‘Turkish Exceptionalism’ – the idea that Turkey is “destined to play a historical and critical role in its region and in the world”, as Erdogan put it in his 2023 manifesto. As such, both the People’s and Nation Alliance believe that Turkey should have full autonomy of its foreign policy. Turkey should be a regional hegemon, ensuring peace and stability in the wider Middle East. Therefore, no matter who is president after May 14th, expect an ‘activist’ Turkey who will make foreign policy decisions that aren’t always by the U.S. playbook. That being said, there are some subtle differences between Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu: the sitting president is more upfront with his ‘assertive’ foreign policy ambitions for Turkey, even using hard power to increase Turkish “visibility” on the world stage. Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, emphasizes state sovereignty and Turkey as a ‘facilitator for solutions’.
War in Ukraine