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A Common Candidate for the Upcoming Turkish Elections: What Could a New Turkish President Mean for the Future of Western Security?

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Written by Arkun Küçük

Edited by James Edward Colombo

After a long and arduous debate, the Turkish opposition coalition has agreed on a presidential candidate for the upcoming national elections. The candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is the leader of the main opposition party, CHP (Camut, 2023). This so-called ‘Nation’s Coalition’ is composed of six political parties whose ideological stances range from secular nationalists to social democrats (Esen, 2022). As such, the main factor keeping the coalition together is their shared opposition to Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. According to pre-election surveys, they might have a real chance at defeating Erdoğan (ORC Research, 2023). If Erdoğan is indeed defeated in May, what could this mean for European security?

A major promise of the opposition coalition is to return the country to its parliamentary system within six months of the election (Euractiv, 2023). This would severely limit the authority of the President, and as a result, both the European and Russian counterparts would find it necessary to engage with Türkiye more institutionally in matters of defence rather than individually with Erdoğan. It has been previously observed that Erdoğan and Putin have enjoyed a personal working relationship despite tense relations between Türkiye and Russia (Aksay, 2023). The future of Turco-Russian relations, in the absence of Erdoğan, could further drift apart since neither the Turkish opposition nor Putin made any significant efforts to establish relations. For the West, the re-emerging institutional diplomatic and security arrangements could be an opportunity to establish more functional relations.

The potential coalition rule means Türkiye could adopt a more ‘Western friendly’ foreign policy direction. Whereas there are conservative parties in the coalition, the only coalition member that might have a similarly antagonistic attitude towards the West is the Karamollaoğlu’s Saadet Party (SP) (Yackley, 2018). However, the SP is one of the smallest members of the coalition and is unlikely to significantly influence Türkiye’s foreign policy (Sayın, 2018). It is very likely that the new government will have a busy parliamentary schedule initially, but even the main nationalist faction of the coalition declared their interest in accelerating Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership process as soon as possible (Görür, 2022). Such a marked shift in policy would also significantly increase pressure on Orban’s Hungary regarding its opposition to Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO.

If Erdoğan is defeated in the upcoming national elections, the future of Western-Turkish security cooperation will be defined by the willingness of partners to engage in dialogue throughout the turbulent process of political change immediately following the election. If the EU and US expect an immediate change after Erdoğan, they will most likely be disappointed. It will be crucial to remain patient and keep in mind that it will take time to revitalize security cooperation with Türkiye as the country reorients itself.


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