Turkey is currently experiencing an attack of election fever. For the first time in twenty years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan could theoretically lose the presidency, the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (PMP) majorities in parliament, or both, Carnegie Europe Senior Fellow Marc Pierini noted.
As a precautionary measure, a special set of electoral tools is at work, he noted.
"This includes the modification of the electoral law in favor of the incumbent coalition; judicial actions against the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) or individuals, for example Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrim İmamoğlu; the muzzling of the media and civil society—like the “fake news law” aimed at controlling social media and the Kavala case aimed at intimidating citizens," he said.
In addition, state institutions and the media are in the service of the current leadership. There are falsified statistics on inflation and foreign exchange reserves. There is a mass of pre-election spending. And there are repeated nationalist narratives against Western partners.
On the economic front, the Turkish authorities have chosen an unconventional policy based on the premise that low interest rates will lower inflation. This has so far yielded no tangible results for the average citizen, while strongly discouraging the inflow of Western capital, such as short-term money and direct investment. Moreover, the expansion of trade and financial relations with Russia, the Persian Gulf and other non-Western partners leads to a growing disconnect between Turkey and American and European suppliers of capital, innovation and technology.
On the foreign policy front, behind the proclaimed balanced policy between the West and Russia, there has been a U-turn away from NATO and Europe. Ankara entrusts its missile defense to Russia, giving it an important strategic advantage.
"Turkey is multiplying threats against Greece, at a crucial moment in NATO’s history. It is blocking Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO, one of the most significant enlargements of the alliance in its seventy-four-year history in light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It is refraining from joining Western sanctions against Moscow. It is engineering a boom in trade and financial relations with Russia, ultimately compensating in part Western sanctions. It is reversing its Syria policy to meet Moscow’s requirements, with the ensuing risks for Syrian refugees in Turkey. And it is now advocating a two-state solution in Cyprus. Simultaneously, Ankara has significantly developed its military industry, aiming at a higher degree of autonomy," he said
Overall, the transformation of Turkey's political, defense, economic and foreign policy foundations is very profound. Some of these elements are immune to election results, others are not.
All of this has implications for Europe and the West in general in three areas.
In the security field, Ankara's desire for independence from the West has been transformed by Moscow into a policy of increasing Turkey's attachment to Russia, with consequent losses for NATO and the EU.
The new defense architecture, the rejection of sanctions against Russia, the hostile narratives against Greece and the new policy towards Syria will lead, regardless of the election results, to long-lasting disagreements with Western partners. The victory of the current leadership in the elections will definitely help Moscow in achieving its long-term goals at the expense of NATO and the EU.
Similarly, in the economic and trade spheres, Turkey will inevitably lose some of its European anchor. Major European industrial assets in Turkey, for example in the automotive industry, will remain, but will grow no further.
Since foreign direct investment is a means of spreading technology and innovation, Turkey will lose an indispensable source of technological progress, and European countries will lose dynamic Turkish industrial partners. Russia and the Gulf countries have nothing to offer in terms of industrial skills.
In the political arena, Turkey could become alienated from the democratic world if it continues to follow - and assimilate - the Russian model of governance. This would be bad news for European countries, as they would have to deal with a neighbor who is constantly disruptive.
More importantly, Turkish citizens would have to suffer from an entrenched autocratic system of government, not based on the rule of law, but on constant conspiracy theories. Ultimately, the stakes for foreign countries in Turkey's upcoming elections are secondary. What matters is what kind of society voters want for themselves, their children and their country.