A Potential Coalition Government and Foreign Policy
In any coalition scenario, the AK Party will be the major partner, and due to the close interest of Ahmet Davutoğlu in foreign policy issues, who is a long time foreign policy adviser and former minister of foreign affairs, the party will have significant clout in Turkish foreign policy
Since the election results came out late on the night of June 7, there have been discussions in various circles in regards to the future of politics in Turkey. After 13 years of a one-party majority in Parliament, the impact of a new coalition era launched different debates in several different issue areas. Today there are different scenarios of coalition building, the potential realignment between political parties, the comparisons of the “red lines” that were presented by the political leaders after the elections and their prerequisites for building a coalition and the possibility of an early election in the case of a failure to form a coalition. Now the coalition options, after several revisions of “red lines” by political parties, decreased to two – namely an AK Party-MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) coalition, or an AK Party-CHP (Republican People’s Party) coalition. As a result, the nature of debates has changed a little bit. There are more substantive debates about the potential impacts of these options to the different issues areas in Turkish politics, such as the prospect of a new constitution, the allocation of ministries and the fate of the Kurdish reconciliation process. In addition to these debates in Turkey, in Washington and other capitals in Western countries, another debate is taking place about the potential changes in Turkey’s foreign policy in the aftermath of a formation of a coalition government. There is some emphasis on a potential “moderation” in Turkish foreign policy as a result of a coalition government. In different panel discussions and articles, this issue was raised as a possible outcome of the formation of a coalition government. It is not clear what these analysts mean by moderation. For some, it is an improvement of bilateral relations with the U.S., for others, it is a change in Turkish policy towards the Syrian conflict and the military coup in Egypt. Some also expect a change in policy with Israel.
Those speculations about Turkish foreign policy sometimes underestimate the nature of the change that has taken place in Turkish policy over the last few decades. The assumption of some of these arguments is that the leaders of the AK Party were the only force behind the foreign policy change in Turkey, and in the case of a potential coalition government, the influence of these leaders will wane and foreign policy will go through a retuning and even towards its default settings. There are different problems about this assumption and argument. First of all, the change in Turkish foreign policy over the last 13 years was a result of the emergence and interaction of multiple different variables. Although leaders and foreign policy-makers played a significant role in the construction of this new foreign policy, the public, civil society groups and the new elites of Turkey also played important roles. During this period, while Turkish foreign policy was becoming more civil as a result of the transformation in foreign policy decision-making and active civilian control of the military, there was also some degree of transformation that made the involvement of other actors in foreign policy possible. Today, the Turkish public is extremely attentive to foreign policy issues and civil society actors are vocal in their positions about the developments in the region. For instance the coup in Egypt and the massacres in its aftermath elicited a major reaction from Turkish society, which is very sensitive in regards to military involvement to politics due to their prior experiences of coups and summary executions conducted by junta regimes in Turkey. So it is extremely difficult for any government in Turkey to normalize relations with Egypt without some significant steps taken by the regime in Cairo. Thus, it was not only the government, but also society that reacted to the coup in this country. This example of Egypt is relevant to other foreign policy issue areas as well. The public and civil society is today willing to be taken into account in the formulation of foreign policy and significantly limits the actions of governments. And it is almost impossible to reverse this trend and act against the will of society in key foreign policy issues in Turkey.
Secondly, although some of the disagreements and disputes between Turkey and its Western allies have been presented as a result of the policy choices of the AK Party government, the root cause of some of these disagreements were a result of deeper strategic issues that relate to the state interests of Turkey. In fact, some of the disagreements between Turkey and the U.S. in regards to Egypt and Syria is more than the divergence of opinions between the AK Party and the Obama administration. Especially after the military assistance of the U.S. to the PYD forces despite Turkey’s protests, the issue of Syria and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have gained a significant new dimension. Neither a coalition between the AK Party and the MHP nor a partnership between the AK Party and the CHP will taper down the reaction of the Turkish state in such policies. Although both the MHP and the CHP were critical of the AK Party government regarding its Syria policy during the elections, they are known to be very skeptical about U.S. foreign policy in the region as well, and it is dubious how they can approach U.S. positions on Syria. In addition, with the recent developments in the border areas, the level of the confusion of these political parties about the U.S. position in regards to the region might increase dramatically. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the CHP was in government more than 15 years ago and although the MHP was in government 13 years ago, the party did not have a hold on the foreign policy file. The AK Party on the other hand, will have the advantage of having run foreign policy over the last 13 years. Besides, in any coalition scenario, the AK Party will be the major partner, and due to the close interest of Ahmet Davutoğlu in foreign policy issues, who is a long time foreign policy adviser and former minister of foreign affairs, the party will have significant clout in Turkish foreign policy. In the meantime, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has formed significant ties with other leaders, has an important degree of visibility in the international arena and significant experience in foreign policy-making and will chair national security council meetings, will also continue to play an important role in foreign policy formulation. In fact, under the current circumstances and due to the nature of change in Turkish foreign policy in recent years, it would be difficult to expect a major shift in Turkish foreign policy as a result of the formation of a coalition government in Turkey.
This article was originally published in the Daily Sabah on June 26, 2015.