Turkiye’s election: what can we expect?

by Gaetano Massara

Today Turks go to the polls to elect the President and the Parliament of the Republic born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire defeated in the First World War. Turkey has never been more polarized than today. On the one hand, the outgoing president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party, in power since 2002, creator of an authoritarian regime accentuated by the hyper-presidential reform of 2017. On the other, the heterogeneous oppositions coalesced around Mr. Kemal Kiricdaroglu, leader of the People’s Republican Party, Kemalist of the Aluite minority, who propose to restore the parliamentary system and reduce the President's powers. They intend to restart EU accession negotiations, apply the decisions of the European Court on Human Rights and adopt a loyal attitude towards NATO allies. In the background, inflation at 55%, the 130% devaluation of the Turkish lira and the failure of the Erdoganomics that have thinned the middle class, and the devastation of the earthquake, which left 50,000 victims and 1.5 million homeless.
Erdogan’s ambition to elevate Turkey to the rank of a global power is rooted in the memory of Ottoman glories and the awareness that Anatolia is an indefensible bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa whose security begins in Sarajevo, Mykolajiv, Baghdad , Karachi, Tripoli and Mogadishu. This strategic depth is articulated along four lines: the Caucasian-Central Asian one, aimed at strengthening the link between the Turkic-speaking nations; the Middle East, which through pan-Islamism aspires to establish Turkey as the leader of the Muslim nations; the Balkans, a strategic background for having a say in European affairs through the revitalization of the Thrace-Macedonia-Kosovo-Novi Pazar-Bosnia corridor; and the African one, a springboard towards the oceans.
In the first decade of this Century, Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism had maintained connotations of peaceful competition with international partners. But 2013 marked a turning point. Erdogan’s belief that the
West was behind the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the protests against him in Gezi
Park, the Kurds of Syria and Iraq and the attempted coup in Turkey has led him to decline neo-Ottomanism in an explicitly imperial and aggressive form.
The doctrine of the Blue Homeland, which underpins claims to what Ankara considers its liquid vital space and projects Turkish ambitions as far as the Strait of Gibraltar and the Indian Ocean, has been applied in the 2019 agreement with the government of Tripoli. In exchange for establishing a border line between the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and that of Cyrenaica allowing Turkish waters to wedge between Greek-Cypriot waters and gain access to the open Mediterranean, Turkey has intervened militarily to help the Tripolitan government reject the attack by the militias of Colonel Kalifa Haftar. After the successful defense of Tripoli, Turkish troops settled in in Tripolitania. And Ankara could also begin exploration of hydrocarbons in its claimed EEZ, sparking protests by Cyprus and Greece, and deepen its penetration of Africa. In 2020, it signed a military cooperation agreement with Albania and provided decisive assistance to Azerbaijan in the war against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russian bogging down in Ukraine has strengthened Turkey's negotiating power. Turkish veto on Sweden
and Finland’s accession to NATO, the agreement with Russia, the collaboration with Moscow and Tehran
over Syria and the cooperation with China are proofs of this.
Regardless of who will win the elections, it is reasonable to expect that the revision of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne will remain a structural feature of Turkey’s foreign policy. This will continue to be a major
factor of instability in the Aegean Sea and the Balkans. It is to be hoped that with the eventual change of
regime, Turkey’s new leadership will revert to sincere diplomacy and international cooperation.

Gaetano Massara

Gaetano Massara is a strategic and financial adviser. Currently he is a Member of the Board of Directors of Ansaldo Energia, and works as a consultant and editorialist. He is an expert in energy, geopolitics and business transformation.

He has worked at GE Lighting-Tungsram for two years, where he was CEO for South Europe. Prior to that, he worked at General Electric (GE) for 11 years, where he covered the roles of CEO for South-East Europe, Sales Executive of GE Power for Central & Eastern Europe and Marketing & Business Development Director for South Europe. Previously, he worked at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), where he was Associate Banker in the Municipal & Environmental Infrastructure team and Analyst at the Transport team. He also worked at the European Commission. Having lived and worked for 20 years in South-East Europe – a region encompassing ex-Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Malta and Romania – he became an expert of the region and its dynamics.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Business Administration from the University of Rome, an MSc in International Relations funded by Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a Diploma in Macroeconomics from the Yale University, USA. He also undertook part of his studies in France and Spain. Gaetano is fluent in English, French and Spanish and is Italian mother tongue. He can communicate in Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian. As an athlete, he has been Triathlon “Ironman”-distance five times finisher, Italian champion of rowing and competitor in sailing regattas. He currently lives between Belgrade (Serbia), Rome (Italy) and Zagreb (Croatia).

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