Turkish snap elections will determine the fate of Syria to some extent, and an unexpected change of government in Ankara could shift Turkey’s foreign policy and priorities
There are now almost two months until Turkey’s snap elections, which will no doubt amplify the importance of domestic politics and take the public attention to the daily political developments, which happen to be very captivating.
Thus, Turkish foreign policymakers will need to focus on their primary purpose, which is winning the elections. There is a high likelihood that even the smallest developments in the region or Europe could exacerbate bilateral tensions between Turkey and its Western allies in the election atmosphere, yet I do not expect anything further than verbal warnings and some pushback by the Turks against them.
One of the major areas that could be affected by the election period would obviously be Syria.
In Afrin, the Turkish government has completed a successful military operation against the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and delivered a huge blow to the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) long-term plans in the country. Turkish threats against the Syrian town of Manbij, where U.S. Special Forces are present to protect YPG militants, have drawn American civilian leadership attention to the pending issues. Now it seems Ankara is counting on designated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s wisdom and the recently increasing interactions between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Donald Trump.
Turkey will likely to de-escalate the tensions in northern Syria until the snap elections are completed and Pompeo is in office. But this assumes the continuation of the current Turkish leadership after the snap elections on June 24.
What if one of the opposition candidates wins the elections? This could have significant implications on long-term Turkish foreign policymaking in the region.
For one, the current Turkish government headed by President Erdoğan is very decisive to combat the YPG and pay the necessary cost, human or material, to realize Ankara’s priorities in the region. Could we say the same thing about the Turkish opposition parties?
Since the 2016 coup attempt, Erdoğan has been implementing a pragmatic and realist foreign policy to increase his leverage especially against the treaty allies such as the U.S. which has failed to uphold its promises again and again. Under Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has willingly deepened its relations with Russia to show that the Western players were not the only game in the region.
While Erdoğan was decisive in Afrin, the Turkish opposition has been reluctant to apply military force in Syria all along. Pro-Bashar Assad, main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was initially hesitant to endorse the Afrin move. The CHP has been defending a non-interventionist Syria policy, and I believe even the fight against Daesh would not have pushed them to conduct military offensives in the country. Probably a CHP government would have been more cautious in its relations with Russia. But Russian President Vladimir Putin is a reality that even CHP leadership would have tried to work with.
Former Minister Meral Akşener’s Good Party (İP) also has been critical of Turkish policies in Syria. Yet they issued support for the government’s action in Afrin. Would they have taken the same decision to go after the YPG? Doubtful.
In any case, if power changes hands on June 24, a new Turkish government’s priority would not be Syria or regional policies but domestic restoration and internal affairs. A new Turkish government would not have much appetite to utilize the Turkish military to change the calculus in the field. Any alternatives to the current leadership would try to return to pre-Erdoğan foreign policymaking which was less ambitious and more dependent on treaty alliances.
But this would not suggest a complete overhaul of the current policies, since the Turkish public perception against the the YPG-U.S. alliance in Syria is unequivocal: It is an existential threat.
The Turkish snap elections will also determine the fate of Syria, in one way or another.
Source Daily Sabah